The expense of spirit in a waste of shame

I used to know this sonnet off by heart. A useful poem for me to have in mind.

Sonnet 129

Th’ expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till action, lust
Is perjured, murd’rous, 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.

All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.




I got a fright in a second-hand bookshop recently when God found me an edited selection of Bonhoeffer’s letters and papers from prison. I haven’t started reading it properly yet. Dipping into it I found this:

The essence of chastity is not the suppression of lust, but the total orientation of one’s life towards a goal. Without such a goal, chastity is bound to become ridiculous. Chastity is the presupposition for clear and considered thinking.

Bonhoeffer’s prose is so simple and clear, so easy to read. The damage is done before you even realise you’ve read it. He seems to be speaking about me and my life exactly. The root cause (one root cause) of my weakness and misery is because I am completely aimless. Apart from the need to make money.

Here’s something I wrote on chastity a few years ago on my (now deleted) bisexual panty fetishist blog “Perfect Lips, Flawless Fingertips”:


A few thoughts to get me started:

  1. Chastity is moral purity. The word comes from the Latin castus, which means clean or pure (perhaps especially in a moral sense).
  2. Chastity precludes sex if and only if sex is immoral. Sex is not immoral. Therefore chastity does not preclude sex. Syllogism-stylee there for fans of propositional calculus.
  3. Previous point means that it is possible to be chaste and still have plenty of sex. Interesting and important.
  4. Moral purity does not come from following rules. Rules follow from prior conception of morality. Therefore it is possible to follow the rules but still not be morally pure.
    1. see Jesus, passim.
    2. Chastity belts and other devices miss the point twice: it’s not about sex; temptation is already sin.
  5. So what is my conception of moral purity? My guiding stars are Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Spinoza’s Ethics (I know Spinoza hated Aristotle but I think it’s OK to mix) and, more concretely, the practice of true love.
  6. The ends of The Good are human flourishing — eudaemonia, the growth of love, call it what you like.
  7. Chastity involves knowledge of the value of love and knowledge of the value of one’s own love.
    1. Chastity includes knowledge of the value of oneself (e.g., as a source of love).
    2. These points have implications for the practice of sex.
  8. Is it possible to be chaste without knowing it? No. Chastity involves knowledge of what chastity is and that one is chaste oneself.
    1. Someone who is chaste without knowing it should be called innocent.

More when there is more.




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