William Shakespeare

(26 April 1564 - 23 April 1616 / Warwickshire)

Sonnet Cxxix - Poem by William Shakespeare

The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till action, lust
Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,
Enjoy'd no sooner but despised straight,
Past reason hunted, and no sooner had
Past reason hated, as a swallow'd bait
On purpose laid to make the taker mad;
Mad in pursuit and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.
All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.


Comments about Sonnet Cxxix by William Shakespeare

  • Fabrizio Frosini (1/10/2016 2:53:00 PM)


    This, one of the most famous sonnets, explores the reaction of the human psyche to the promptings of sexual urges. The folk wisdom of omne animal post coitum triste est, which is often quoted in connection with this sonnet, is banal in comparison to the ideas developed here. One has to look back to the ancient Greek world, and to the plays of Euripides, especially The Bacchae and Hippolytus, to find an equivalent. Particularly striking is the torrent of adjectives describing the build up of desire, and the imagery of the hooked fish which portrays the victim of lust as a frenzied animal expending its last vital energies in paroxysms of rage and futile struggle, even though it is inevitably doomed. (Report) Reply

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  • Fabrizio Frosini (1/10/2016 2:50:00 PM)


    In relation to the sonnet sequence as a whole, it is worth noting that nothing like this is found in the series to the young man. The profound hatred of sexuality does not occur within that context, where the passions expressed are undying and lofty, although often intermingled with sexual humour and puns. (Report) Reply

  • Fabrizio Frosini (1/10/2016 2:50:00 PM)


    However readers from cultures other than the predominantly Western ones might find the sonnet puzzling. It gives essentially a phallo-centric view of sex, and its hatred of sexuality derives from the Christian imperative of the virginal life and the dislike of all bodily functions, a philosophy which finds few echoes in Eastern religions where sexuality is often gloriously celebrated. Perhaps it is because it chimes so harmoniously with much that is repressive in traditional Christian sexual morality that it has been so popular. It is of course very difficult to separate out culturally derived ideas from those which spring from an individual's personality, and this sonnet provides no exception to the rule. The extreme sexual pessimism may be viewed as a temporary aberration on the part of the poet, or as an essential element of his personality, or simply as an expression of the prevailing opinion of the time. It is tempting to see this outbreak of sexual melancholia as stemming directly from the passions aroused by the dark lady. That would undoubtedly increase the fascination with her and has no doubt helped to fuel speculation as to her character. But the reality is that biographical details are entirely lacking, even if we knew for certain that she did exist. (Report) Reply

  • Fabrizio Frosini (1/10/2016 2:49:00 PM)


    Because of the sonnet's setting between two relatively light hearted ones, I am more inclined to play down its inherent darkness. Despite its apparent ferocity it may have been written from a detached viewpoint. After all, its writer was capable of portraying the distorted lust of Tarquin in The Rape of Lucrece; he had looked at the machinations of Angelo in Measure for Measure, a man whose sexual passion had subverted entirely the supposed icy chastity of all his former life; he was to portray the mad sexual jealousy of Othello (if he had not already done so when the sonnet was written): and he was to look at the theme again with Leontes in The Winter's Tale. (Report) Reply

  • Fabrizio Frosini (1/10/2016 2:49:00 PM)


    The fact that the sonnet is placed precisely here inevitably leads us to suppose that there is some direct link with his mistress, on whom his heart dotes, even though she is both morally and metaphorically as black as hell, as dark as night. But, as already mentioned, since we have no other biographical or historical details, we cannot even be sure that the woman is a real person or a fictitious creation. The sexual pessimism it shows, although extreme, is not alien to the Christian tradition, which from its earliest years adopted some of the harsher tenets of the asceticism of the ancient Greco-Roman world, with its doctrines of virginity and sexual abstention which date back probably to Pythagoras, and which were maintained as a continuous tradition through Plato and the Stoics long before Christianity took it over.www
    shakespeares-sonnets.com
    (Report) Reply

  • Brian Jani (4/26/2014 9:55:00 AM)


    Awesome I like this poem, check mine out (Report) Reply

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Read poems about / on: lust, trust, dream, joy, heaven, world, sonnet, hunting, hate



Poem Submitted: Friday, May 18, 2001



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