Shakespeare vs. Donne vs. Timberlake – Sonnet 129

While reading this poem, I could not help but think to myself that Shakespeare was a completely different man than Donne. His lustful desires cause him to feel ashamed, as well as a host of other dark emotions. In contrast, the poems by Donne that we just read portray a man hungry for sex, that uses any kind of cunning to get his female object of desire to undress and sleep with him (referencing “The Flea” and “Elegy XX”). I find it very interesting that these two poets, these two men, have such completely differing perspectives on lust. John Donne seems to embrace desire and lust, while Shakespeare portrays one filled with darkness and shame. When meshing Donne’s eagerness and Shakespeare’s obsessive problems with lust, I could not help but think of Justin Timberlake’s song “Pusher Love Girl,” in which a man so longs for the “love” of his girl, that his desire is like the need for a variety of illicit and addictive drugs.

“Sonnet 129” surprises me because Shakespeare is not averse to sex or sexual desire, as some of his other poems and plays will demonstrate. Taking this into account, I think his poem is trying to demonstrate the obsession that develops out of lust for sex, not any problems with the act itself. The poet is bothered by the amount of time and energy exhausted on desirous feelings, noted with “the expense of spirit in a waste of shame / is lust in action.” The darkness that occurs in want of “lust in action” is “perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame, / Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust.” Even after the lustful act, it is “no sooner but despised straight.” Shakespeare is filled with a complex set of emotions that appear to be fighting one another. It appears that the fixation of lust does not justify sex or the sex does not alleviate any of the dark emotions that occur. This might explain the frustration and anger portrayed in the metaphor of the hunter and “swallow’d bait.”

On the opposite side of the spectrum, there is the cunning John Donne who uses philosophic and metaphysical mind tricks to coax women to sleep with him and undress themselves. There is no sense of shame or darkness in any of his propositions or desires. Instead of Shakespeare’s dark imagery of savagery, murder, blood and cruelty, Donne describes his desire in religious, hopeful, and comedic ways. “Elegy XX – On Mistress Going to Bed” demonstrates this best, using religious and conquesting imagery and ending with a surprising twist. Ironically, while Shakespeare’s sonnet harkens to religious ideals of being chaste, there is no hint or mention of religion, whereas in Donne’s poem “Elegy XX,” religious references are used to bolster his lustful propositions.

Pulling Shakespeare and Donne’s poems together is Justin Timberlake’s “Pusher Love Girl.”* This rather long, but very catchy song describes how much a man is “hopped up on” his love interest. Like Shakespeare, his lustful feelings are obsessive to the point of addiction. The woman or the “lust in action” is  “My [Justin’s] heroine, my cocaine, my plum wine, my MDMA…And I can’t wait ’til I get home to get you in my veins.” I doubt Justin feels any hate or madness after getting his fix. The extended metaphor in “Pusher Love Girl” reminds me very much of the persuasive philosophical techniques that Donne uses to try to woe his love interests. Instead of using a flea, Justin Timberlake uses drugs.

These three men of the Renaissance and of the twenty first century all portray the pull and irresistibility of lust and love. Lust is the source of much pleasure, but also deep emotional upheavals and obsessive and addictive compulsions.


*Lyrics to the song can be found at


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