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A Short Analysis of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 129: ‘The expense of spirit in a waste of shame’

A commentary on Shakespeare’s 129th sonnet

When we reach no. 129 in Shakespeare’s Sonnets (‘The expense of spirit in a waste of shame’), we come across a rarity: two classic sonnets one after the other (we’ll come to Sonnet 130 next week). This first one is famous for its analysis of the psyche (particularly the male psyche) after sexual gratification has been achieved. What explains the feeling of sadness, and even self-loathing, which often ensues? Before we take Sonnet 129 in hand and proceed to analyse it, here’s a reminder of the poem.

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;
Enjoyed no sooner but despised straight;
Past reason hunted; and no sooner had,
Past reason hated, as a swallowed 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. Read the rest of this entry

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A Short Analysis of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s ‘Carrion Comfort’

A commentary on one of Hopkins’s ‘Terrible Sonnets’

The mid-1880s was not a good time for Gerard Manley Hopkins. Lonely in Ireland, the poet fell into a black pit of depression, out of which came the ‘Terrible Sonnets’ which represent, after his flurry of creativity in 1876-77, the most productive time of his poetic career. ‘Carrion Comfort’ is perhaps the most famous of these sonnets. Before we proceed to a commentary on the poem, here’s a reminder of it.

Carrion Comfort

Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
Not untwist — slack they may be — these last strands of man
In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.
But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me
Thy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scan
With darksome devouring eyes my bruisèd bones? and fan,
O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee and flee? Read the rest of this entry

A Short Analysis of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 97: ‘How like a winter hath my absence been’

A commentary on Shakespeare’s 97th sonnet

Sonnet 97 has a famous opening line, but the rest of the poem remains less famous. Yet the poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Don Paterson have both expressed admiration for it, so the sonnet is worth closer analysis and explication. Before we proceed to a few words of commentary on Sonnet 97, here’s a reminder of the poem.

How like a winter hath my absence been
From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!
What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen!
What old December’s bareness everywhere!
And yet this time removed was summer’s time;
The teeming autumn, big with rich increase,
Bearing the wanton burden of the prime,
Like widow’d wombs after their lords’ decease:
Yet this abundant issue seemed to me
But hope of orphans, and unfathered fruit;
For summer and his pleasures wait on thee,
And, thou away, the very birds are mute: Read the rest of this entry