Featured Poem: Sonnet 129 by William Shakespeare

No darling buds of May in evidence here. Shakespeare’s subject is lust: “Had, having, and in quest to have”. Before consummation, lust is “perjur’d, murderous, bloody, full of blame, / Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust”. And then “no sooner had, / Past reason hated, as a swallow’d bait, / On purpose laid to make the taker mad”.

Poor Anne, you might say.

But this sonnet really demonstrates Shakespeare’s technical mastery: his syntactical tricks and tropes generate tremendous rhythm and energy. Reading aloud (as you should be), you can hear his frenzied argument struggling against the confines of the sonnet form, like Man struggling against his own biology. In both cases, there is no escape: only a temporary release of tension in the final clinching couplet.

Now where did I put those cigarettes…?

Sonnet 129

The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till action, lust
Is perjur’d, 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 prov’d, a very woe;
Before, a joy propos’d; behind a dream.
All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.

by William Shakespeare, 1609

Posted by Mark Till

2 thoughts on “Featured Poem: Sonnet 129 by William Shakespeare”

  1. Hello, Linda. Yes – although I think this sonnet puts the Elizabeth I theory to bed. So to speak. It could also be the first recorded case of Portnoy’s Complaint…

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