William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 129 is a classic Shakespearian Sonnet from his distinguished collection published in 1609. The Shakespearean Sonnet is unquestionably the most intellectual and dramatic of poetic forms and, when written well, is a masterpiece not only of poetic talent but intellectual talent as well. Like the majority of sonnets, Sonnet 129 has fourteen lines and is organized into an octave followed by a sestet; or more in depth, three quatrains followed by a heroic couplet. However, there is one thing about this poem that does not follow the traditional cookie cutter model of a Shakespearean Sonnet.
The distinctiveness is that this particular sonnet does not have the volta or thematic turn which generally shifts the mood or thematic direction, the topic of discussion and the mood in which it is written remains the same.
There are, of course, other sonnets that Shakespeare wrote that also do not have a volta. The words of this poem discuss the issue of sex and lustful desire and the negative effects that they have on humanity.
Shakespeare artistically puts the issue into three categories: lust as a longing for future pleasure, lust as it is consummated in the present, and finally, lust as it is remembered after the pleasurable experience, when it becomes a source of shame. These three categories are organized flawlessly into the three Sicilian Quatrains of the sonnet which all lead up to the heroic or rhyming couplet at the end. These final two closing lines fundamentally state that everyone in the world knows everything that has been said very well, they know and have experienced the consequences of lustful desires; and yet, no one knows well enough to stay away from this magnificent experience that leads us to a state of suffering.
The meter of this sonnet follows the traditional guiding principles by using iambic pentameter.
Therefore, for the most part, each line is divided into five feet and each of these feet are made up of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one. However, there are some exceptions within the sonnet that deserve mentioning. The very first foot of the first line, “Th’expense,” has to be read in this way, as opposed to “the expense,” in order to preserve the iambic rhythm of the sonnet from the very beginning. Lines three and four of the first quatrain are essentially an angry list of what lust is. The word cruel, in line four, produces an interesting effect. Shakespeare could have chosen an obvious two syllable word, but he did not do such a thing, that would be too easy.
He chooses a word that fulfills the iambic rhythm, but in effect, disrupts it and works against it. Rhyme, when done appropriately, produces an effect that free verse simply does not match and cannot reproduce. When being used by a professional such as Shakespeare, rhyme is not just about being appealing, proper or elegant; it directs the reader’s ear and mind, strengthening thought and thematic ideas. The rhyme scheme within Sonnet 129 is rather common. The first quatrain is ABAB, the second is CDCD, the third is EFEF, and finally, the couplet at the end is GG. The most important attribute of the Shakespearean Sonnet is it’s rhyme scheme, rather than the meter. This is because the essence of the Shakespearean Sonnet is in its sense of drama. The rhyme scheme, because of the way it directs the ear, reinforces the dramatic feel of the sonnet and enhances the
To conclude, Sonnet 129 is not exactly the most original in form, meter, rhythm or rhyme; nevertheless, it has a very thought-provoking subject matter and presents an enlightening notion that is left to be pondered upon by all.
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