Last Updated 20 Jun 2022

Sonnet 129

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The poem Sonnet 129 focuses on human lust and its inevitable stages of shame. Shakespeare promotes the theme that as a result of lust there is only corruptness, whether it be while one is “in pursuit” (9) (in the future tense), “in possession” (in the present tense), or after the fact (in the past tense) when it proves “a very woe” (11). The negativity of lust is extremely reinforced in only the third line of the poem with a chain of adjectives to describe lust: “Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame, / Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust” (3-4).

This word choice exemplifies strong and ruthless voice that one would not usually categorize with lust. A simile is used to expound the consequence of lust by comparing it to when a fish is tricked by “a swallowed bait” (7). When a fish takes the bait with the hidden hook, the barb on the hook encases itself inside the fish’s flesh. This is an accurate comparison to lust because the energy the fish exerts directly correlates with how deep the hook is buried. Correspondingly, just like when one is lustful, he or she is unavoidably doomed; that is, trying to escape the shame worsens the situation.

Also, Shakespeare touches on the deceptiveness of lust: at first one is convinced lust is not a problem, merely “A bliss in proof” (11); however once realized and “proved” (11), the struggle with lust ends up being problematic. Moreover, Shakespeare expresses the shamefulness of viewing lust from “behind a dream” (12), the consequently terrible feeling one feels after lusting. The organization of Sonnet 129 helps convey Shakespeare’s idea about the tangles created by lust. The rhyme scheme is ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.

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This organization of rhyme forms a sense of always searching for a conclusion to the rhyme, as one reads one line and then the next in search for an end rhyme. There are no periods for the first 12 lines creating a lack of pause, which forces one to read the entire poem through in a hastily manner. This all exemplifies the theme of lust because the poem reveals how once one lusts, they are never satisfied whether it be before, during, or after the lusting just like how as the reader is always propelled into the next word or phrase.

The last couplet of the poem “All this the world well knows; yet none knows well / To Shun the heaven that leads men to this hell” (13-4) finally breaks the hurried 14 lines. In this couplet, Shakespeare explains that everyone knows lusting is a sin and it is always visible to God. This is an appropriate conclusion for this poem because it is reiterating the seriousness of lust and the Christian stance that lusting, in the end, will place you in hell.

Sonnet 129 essay

Related Questions

on Sonnet 129

What is the structure of Sonnet 129 by William Shakespeare?

‘Th’ expense of spirit in a waste of shame’ by William Shakespeare, also known as Sonnet 129, is a fourteen-line poem. It is structured in the form which has come to be synonymous with the poet’s name. It is made up of three quatrains, or sets of four lines, and one concluding couplet, or set of two rhyming lines.

Why does Sonnet 129 reverse the Order of the words?

The poet often reverses the order of words to give greater impact to his antithesis and to deepen the impression of conflict, as in line 2: "Is lust in action; and till action, lust." Line 14 — "To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell" — completes the antagonistic imagery. Sonnet 129 reveals a fundamental weakness in the poet's moral being.

How do you read Sonnet 129 line by line?

Line by Line Analysis of Sonnet 129. Sonnet 129 is all about lust and the physical bodies of both male and female. It's about sex, bodily functions and the potency involved in the act of love making. Take careful note of the three quatrains (the first twelve lines) building up and up before the release at lines 13 and 14.

What does Sonnet 129 reveal about the poet's moral being?

Sonnet 129 reveals a fundamental weakness in the poet's moral being. He asks why his heart should be moved by what he knows to be worthless, and yet, obviously bound by passion, he cannot escape his lust despite his better self.

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