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Literary Devices in Sonnet 129

Literary Devices Examples in Sonnet 129:

Sonnet 129


"leads men to this hell...."   (Sonnet 129)

Except for the closing couplet, sonnet 129 consists of single run-on sentence. This structure, built around the single simile in lines seven and eight, creates a claustrophobic sense that culminates in an explosive outburst, a feeling which mirrors the conflicting emotions that accompany sexual lust. The final couplet, which stands apart from the rest of the sonnet, admits that the necessity for sex is universal and timeless—each generation must learn anew to be wary of the pitfalls of love and desire.

"proposed..."   (Sonnet 129)

“Proposed” is language that suggests marriage. However, the union suggested is “proposed” by lust: the union between the speaker and his lust. The passive construction of the verb conceals the identity of the proposer. It is thus not clear whether the “joy” of sex is proposed by the dark lady or by the speaker’s own instinctual nature. The syntax here mirrors that of line 8: “On purpose laid,” a phrase which places responsibility on the woman. The speaker externalizes the blame for his lustful actions.

"heaven..."   (Sonnet 129)

This line could be read in one of two ways. “Heaven” can be a reference to the woman’s physical beauty in which case “hell” is the female sex organ. “Heaven” can also be read as sexual fulfillment in which case “hell” is the speaker’s post coital shame. If read in the second way, the final line of this couplet reflects the exact sentiment of the first line: the speaker has not learned his lesson, he still views sex as paradise.

"All this the world well knows; yet none knows well..."   (Sonnet 129)

This line is an example of a chiasmus, a literary device in which phrases are repeated in a reversed order or modified form. This inverted parallel shows that the world has not learned this lesson though the lesson is “well known.” All will continue to repeat this pattern.

"in quest to have..."   (Sonnet 129)

“Have” appears in past, present, and future tense, which conveys a cyclical nature to the speaker’s lust. Though he depicts his lust as a hunt in line 6, suggesting a goal-centered nature, here the speaker admits that the hunt never ends.

"have..."   (Sonnet 129)

The repetition of “have’ suggests that this action is similarly repetitive. It has happened in the past and will continue to happen. Repetition functions throughout this poem to signify the cyclical nature of lust, fulfillment, and shame.

"in possession so..."   (Sonnet 129)

In a typical sonnet, line 9 would mark the volta, a thematic and tonal shift to begin the third quatrain. There is, however, no meaningful volta in Sonnet 129, nor are there meaningful separations between the quatrains. Lines 3 through 12 all serve as adjectival descriptions of the word “lust” at the end of line 2. The structural chaos of the poem imitates the speaker’s chaotic state of mind.

"Mad in pursuit..."   (Sonnet 129)

In sonnets, a speaker irrationally pursues an ideal woman who does not return his love. Thus, love poetry is about the distance between the poet and lover; the poet must gaze upon the love object from afar and never fulfill his desire. However, in this poem the poet’s “mad pursuit” is not obsessive gazing from afar but the fulfillment of desire. In this way the poem stands as an exploration of what happens when desire that should be unrequited is fulfilled.

"On purpose..."   (Sonnet 129)

“On purpose” suggests that the woman intentionally seduced and trapped the speaker with her appearance. This sentiment echoes the traditional love poem in which the male gaze is trapped by, or fixed by, the woman’s beauty. Here, the woman’s beauty is blamed for spurring the man to indulge in his desire.

"On purpose laid..."   (Sonnet 129)

This is the only moment in the poem in which the woman actually enters the narrative. Throughout the first two quatrains, the speaker focuses on his lust rather than the object of that lust. Notice that the woman enters the poem in a passive way, “lust is laid” rather than actively entrapping him by laying the lust. While she does enter the poem, the woman is still an object and a tool, first for his lust then for his shame.

"Past reason..."   (Sonnet 129)

In its first iteration, the word “past” operates as a spatial preposition. In his hunt, the speaker passes by his reasoning faculties. In the next line, the identical phrase is used as a temporal metaphor, pointing back in time to the flawed reasoning of the speaker’s lustful pursuit.

"lust..."   (Sonnet 129)

“Lust” is defined in the following lines as “murderous, bloody, cruel,” etc. to suggest that there is inherent violence in lust. Claiming that lust is violent in myriad ways “till action” suggests that the fulfillment of lust robs it of its violent power. Essentially, the speaker describes an intense build up to an action that amounts to nothing more than shame.

"full of blame..."   (Sonnet 129)

This line is largely composed of syllables heavily weighted with consonant sounds, often on both ends of a vowel. This approach to sound gives the line a swollen, full feeling, which conveys the speaker’s lustful state.

"murd'rous..."   (Sonnet 129)

By describing lust as “murd’rous” and “bloody,” this line establishes a conflation between lust and violence that the speaker refers to again throughout the poem.

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