In William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 129, he seems intent on conveying the inimical meaning of lust and sexual desire. To do so, Shakespeare employs the sonnet form—specifically, the Elizabethan sonnet. The Elizabethan sonnet (aka, English sonnet or Shakespearean sonnet) consists of three quatrains, a couplet, and a rhyme scheme of abab, cdcd, efef, gg.
Shakespeare uses the first three quatrains to advance his anguished perspective on lust and desire. It’s as if the quatrains build on one another until Shakespeare arrives at the couplet where he can issue his final, dramatic thoughts on the subject.
The first quatrain conveys the malaise of sex. For Shakespeare, sexual feelings are damaging. They’re an “expense of spirit”—a waste of a person’s energy. Lust is beastly and treacherous or, in Shakespeare’s words, “savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust.”
In the second quatrain, Shakespeare elaborates upon his unfavorable view of sex. As soon as one enjoys lust, they loathe it. Sex deprives people of their “reason” and preys on them. Carnal desire turns its targets into “swallowed bait.”
Shakespeare then employs the third quatrain of the sonnet form to reinforce the frenzy of desire. Whether people are pursuing sex or having sex, they’re “mad” and in a state of “woe.”
Finally, with the couplet, Shakespeare delivers his one-two punch. He utilizes the last two lines for what might be his most profound insights on lust and sex. He says that everybody knows the chaos and upset that sexual urges unleash. Unfortunately, people don’t know how to avoid them and the resulting “hell.”
Of course, the rhyme scheme of the sonnet form helps Shakespeare convey what lust means to him. The rhyme scheme parallels the pattern that Shakespeare spots when it comes to people and sex. As with the Elizabethan sonnet rhyme scheme, there doesn’t appear to be a way for people to escape the scheme of lust.