3 Jun 2013

Shakespeare's Sonnets of Lust not Love: Sonnet 129 The Expense of Spirit in a Waste of Shame and 'Whoso List to Hunt' by Thomas Wyatt


Shakespeare wrote many famous love poems. Here's one he wrote about lust, and Wyatt's poem below, which may have inspired some of the imagery. Yum.

The sonnet is below, with a translation. Get the analysis here.

SONNET 129
William Shakespeare

The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till [until] 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.


Lust is: spending your soul in a shameful waste.
In anticipation, lust
Tells lies, kills, is bloody, should be blamed
Is wild, extreme, rude, cruel, untrustworthy.
No sooner have you enjoyed it but you're disgusted with yourself.
You hunt it beyond reason. No sooner have you got it
Than you hate it. It's like a bait, swallowed,
Put there deliberately to make you mad.

You're mad when you chase it, when you've got it
When you've had it, are having it, and trying to have it;
It's delightful to taste, and tasted, truly disgusting;
You look forward to it; then it's gone.
   Everyone knows this; but no one knows well
   To avoid this heaven that leads to hell.

Whoso List to Hunt
Thomas Wyatt
Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
But as for me, alas, I may no more;
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,
I am of them that furthest come behind.
Yet may I by no means my wearied mind
Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore
Fainting I follow; I leave off therefore,
Since in a net I seek to hold the wind.
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I, may spend his time in vain.
And graven with diamonds in letters plain,
There is written her fair neck round about,
'Noli me tangere, for Caesar's I am,
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.'

'Whoso List to Hunt' is a translation of Petrarch's Sonnet, 'Una Candida Cerva'. But there's an interesting secret behind it. Wyatt, the translator, got in a lot of trouble with Henry VIII - for sleeping with the Queen, Anne Boleyn, before she was married. To avoid the scandal, Wyatt went into exile, but on his return, was put on trial. It is said that only his rhetorical skill saved him. So being good at English has a use after all.
Her lover: Thomas Wyatt

'Caesar': Henry VIII

'an hind', the 'deer': Anne Boleyn

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