Sonnet 129 Poem by William Shakespeare Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English


“Sonnet 129” is a Shakespearean sonnet that was published in 1609 and is part of a collection of sonnets devoted to the “Dark Lady.” The poem explores the painful and frustrating aspects of sex and desire. It portrays passion as a “savage,” all-consuming force that drives people “mad,” causing them to pursue physical fulfillment at all costs. However, when the act of making love has ended, individuals feel guilty for agonizing so much over such a short (and, in the speaker’s opinion, emotionally draining) pleasure as sex. The speaker claims that despite everyone knowing that lust leads to self-loathing, they nonetheless indulge because their passion is too strong to restrain them.

About the poet

William Shakespeare, an English playwright, poet, and actor, is regarded as the greatest author in the English language and the finest dramatist in history. Between 1589 and 1613, he composed the majority of his well-known plays and histories. Up until 1608, the majority of his works were tragedies, like Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth. Shakespeare’s plays are performed more frequently than those of any other author because they have been translated into every significant living language. His works are still being researched and reexamined. Shakespeare’s posthumous collected work, The First Folio, was published in 1623 by John Heminges and Henry Condell. Ben Jonson’s prescient poem praised Shakespeare as “not of an age, but for all time.


Line 1-2

Th' expense of spirit in a waste of shame

Is lust in action; and till action, lust


The speaker discusses the characteristics of desire and its effects in these lines. He argues that the waste of one’s soul and energy in indulging in humiliating sexual practices is the personification of lust itself. The second line asserts that passion endures until it is satisfied by action.


The speaker declares that the “expense of spirit” is a wasteful thing at the outset of the first quatrain of “Th’ expense of spirit in a waste of shame.” The phrase “expense of spirit” implies that the lustful man is sacrificing some internal strength since he is in particular speaking about men. The man feels ashamed when this happens. This interesting opening to a poem tells us a lot about the speaker. Despite the speaker’s rather detached tone while speaking to the reader, it becomes clear as the poem goes on that the same things he spoke about men or humans in general also apply to him, and maybe more so. 

Line 3-4

Is perjured, murd'rous, bloody, full of blame, 

Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,


The speaker describes a number of negative traits and features of desire in these lines. He characterizes lust as being deceitful, deadly, brutal, reprehensible, terrible, excessive, impolite, and cruel. These characteristics highlight untrustworthy and hazardous elements of uncontrolled desire, implying its destructive and damaging nature.


The waste of shame, according to the speaker, is the result of “lust in action.” Sexual activity of any kind. As it happens, it is desire. The speaker goes into an impassioned litany of feelings that are connected to the buildup of a sexual act in the second part of the second line, which is a fantastic example of a caesura. The speaker claims, for instance, that “lust is… murderous.” Both “bloody” and “full of blame” best describe it. He continues by calling it “extreme, rude, and cruel.” He refers to the emotional and physical desire linked with the prelude to sex as being untrustworthy in the final line of this list, which is maybe the most interesting. Given that it will eventually result in a sense of shame, as indicated in the first paragraph, it is a state of being that one should not choose to give into.

Line 5-8

Enjoyed no sooner but despisèd straight, 

Past reason hunted; and, no sooner had 

Past reason hated as a swallowed bait 

On purpose laid to make the taker mad;



The speaker discusses the transient nature of lust-derived pleasure in these lines. He says that once sexual impulses are satisfied, sentiments of disgust or disdain are soon to follow. The speaker also mentions that once passion is satisfied, it is instantly abandoned since it is pursued beyond reason.


These lines address the issue of lust and its effects, emphasizing brief pleasure and instantaneous disappointment. The phrase “Enjoyed no sooner but despisèd straight” emphasizes how passion is unpredictable, with feelings of fulfillment frequently being followed by feelings of discontent or disappointment. “Past reason hunted” describes the illogical lust-driven pursuit that is motivated by basic impulses and wants. By comparing passion to a swallowed bait, the phrase “Past reason hated as a swallowed bait” emphasizes the irrationality and negative effects of lust even more. The word “hated” implies that once the initial thrill wears off, people start to despise and regret their actions. The phrase “On purpose laid to make the taker mad” supports the belief that passion is purposefully established as a trap that results in insanity or craziness. The speaker cautions against the illogical pursuit of lust and urges the readers to look for a more reasonable and moral way of living.

Line 9-12

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.


In these lines, the speaker proceeds to delve into the nature of lust, explaining how it drives people insane when they are both pursuing and possessing their desires. He highlights the severe nature of this pursuit, presenting it as a source of both joy and misery. The speaker draws a comparison between the temporary and deceptive nature of the pleasure experienced once one’s desires are satisfied and the short-lived delight that occurs before achieving them.


The speaker explores the contradictory feelings and experiences related to lust. The phrase “Mad in pursuit and in possession so” alludes to the possibility of madness, unstable behavior, and loss of control as a result of the chase and possession of carnal desires. The phrase “Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme” emphasizes how lust is all-encompassing since people are always seeking more and going to great lengths to satisfy their needs. The phrase “A bliss in proof and proved, a very woe” contrasts the initial enjoyment and satisfaction that come from achieving desires with the following sense of pain and unhappiness. The phrase “Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream” contrasts the expected joy and excitement with the false and brief joy experienced later, underscoring the fleeting nature of sexual pleasures. These lines perfectly capture the conflicted feelings, strong desire, and transient nature of passion, underscoring the risk of emotional distress and unhappiness that comes along with excessive lust. The speaker expresses a warning about pursuing such fleeting pleasures and highlights the likelihood of mental anguish and discontent that go along with them.

Line 13-14

All this the world well knows; yet none knows well 

 To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.


The speaker understands that desire is damaging and has negative effects and that the world is aware of this. People are unable to successfully avoid or reject the temptations that push them into this harmful cycle despite knowing this. The speaker suggests as a conclusion that despite being aware of the consequences, people are willfully dragged into this “hell” of lustful desire.


The speaker discusses the contradictory nature of human behavior, claiming that despite widespread awareness of the negative effects of lust, people nonetheless find it difficult to resist its appealing qualities. The phrase “All this the world well knows; yet none knows well” implies that while everyone is aware of the negative repercussions of desire, they lack the knowledge or capacity to withstand its seduction. The speaker’s message is best expressed in the phrase “To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell,” which implies that while the pleasure and ecstasy associated with sexual impulses may initially be viewed as heavenly bliss, they ultimately lead to a destructive and torturous “hell.” The tone of resignation and frustration in these phrases emphasizes the strong pull that passion may have on human wants and the difficulties of escaping its influence. Overall, Sonnet 129 ends with these lines, which stress the universal battle to withstand lust’s appeal and the constant human tendency to pursue pleasures that eventually result in suffering.