Sonnet 129 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.
The first lust in line 2 is the subject of line 1. The second lust is the subject of the rest of the lines down to 12, just one sentence.
The sonnet has a tumbling rhythm, and the effect is quite complex although the meaning is plain. Hard to fix an image in the first line, but expense of spirit is suggestive and waste can be a pun on waist.
I was going to say every man can identify with this, but how should I know? And it got me wondering whether there’s a distinction between post coitum triste and la petite mort, and which suits this sonnet more: the feeling seems more intense than the former, too resentful for the latter.
There is a psychological analysis, but I’m not sure that’s necessary – steady on!
Here’s Ralph Fiennes reciting on Youtube – a bit RSC for me, but there are other versions you can search for.
edit: I’ve clicked back on this post a few times – some nice combinations with the random header images. Hehe.