Archives : Valentine’s Day Is Coming Almost two years ago I made this post on some Cupid references in Shakespeare’s sonnets. Since then my readership has grown, and I know I’ve got some regular readers who are well versed in the sonnets. So I thought I’d ask the question again that is detailed in the above link: Sonnets 153 and 154 appear to me to be nearly identical, except for the ending: Cupid falls asleep, the nymphs come and steal his little bow and arrow and shove it in the water to cool it off.  Only instead of cooling it off, it produces a hot spring that men come to soak in.  153’s ending makes clear sense – Cupid see’s my mistress’ eyes and that is enough to light his torch again, and the cure for the poet’s ills is not the hot bath, but his mistress’ eyes as well.  But what’s 154 mean?  He went to the bath to try to stop thinking about his mistress, and it didn’t work for him? Somebody got the story on this one?  Surely there’s something to it.

4 thoughts on “Archives : Valentine’s Day Is Coming

  1. You knew I would be on this one. Both sonnets are based on a Greek epigram attributed to Marcianus Scholasticus from the 5th C. AD. The moral is echoed in Solomon’s Song 8:7 “Much water cannot quench love, neither can the floods drowne it.” (Geneva Bible) Sonnet 153 just adds the extra stuff about the speaker becoming a living torch, not curable by anything but his mistress’s eyes. The underlying theme of the heat of love not being cooled by the water, but instead heating the bath itself, from the original Greek epigram, is still there, as in 154.
    So to answer your original question, the meaning of Sonnet 154is summed up in its last line: “Loves fire heates water, water cooles not love.”
    One might imagine in the context of the Sonnets, an example of the moral might be that perhaps the speaker’s friend went to his mistress to tell her to give up her affair with him, only to fall in love with her himself. (He, the “water,” cooled not her love, but got “heated up” himself. An unfortunate triangle ensued.)
    Hope that helped.

  2. These are pretty unique for the Sonnets, especially the closeness of the language. Malone says, “He hardly could have intended to send them both into the world.” On the other hand, Isaac (who later changed his name to Conrad) cites other sonneteers, including Petrarch and Sidney, who wrote two sonnets on the same theme. The closest Shakespeare comes is the pair 57 and 58, which start, respectively, “Being your slave what should I do but tend,” and “That God forbid, that made me first your slave.” But there are much greater differences between these poems than there are between 153 and 154. The inter-relationships among the sonnets are very complex and sometimes difficult to characterize: shared themes, shared imagery, shared language, shared wordplay. There is a lot of overlap. There are a few times when I have found myself, on reading two sonnets, imagining Shakespeare thinking, “Hmm, that was pretty good. Let me try that another way.” (like 46 and 47) None, however, are nearly as close to one another as these two and that has engendered significant debate as to their presence in the sequence. Were they intended to be part of the sequence? Were they both intended to be printed? Do they belong at the end or should they be considered separate from the rest? Are they just a bridge to “A Lovers Complaint” that follows? Were they written by Shakespeare?
    You really should read my book. You are too interested in Shakespeare to miss out on all this good stuff.
    Not only that, you might give me some more good ideas. I hadn’t thought of that example about the friend being the “water” to the mistress’s “heat” before. It adds a lot of poignancy to the last two sonnets. Maybe that’s why there are two of them. If you have a really important point to make, why not say it twice?
    If you keep on blogging, and a few teachers decide to use my book in their courses, maybe I’ll eventually get to write a second edition! In the meantime, maybe there’s enough there for an article.

  3. Thanks Carl, I certainly had you in mind when I posted that :). I guess my question is about the near identical nature of the two. Was that a common thing for Shakespeare to do? Take an idea, and then whip out more than one variation? I’ve certainly not studied them all, but that one is pretty blatant. See what I mean? Are there any other cases where you can say “Yeah, sonnet X says this, and then sonnet Y says pretty much the exact same thing except for this little twist here…”

  4. Ok I’ll weigh in on this one. The following examples are the closest that come to what you are asking.

    take a look at sonnet 27 and then take a look at sonnet 61.

    also take a look at sonnet 55 and then follow it with 65.

    a quote from sonnet 76: 3rd quatrain is appropriate:

    O know sweet love I always write of you,
    and you and love are still my argument:
    so all my best is dressing old words new,
    spending again what is already spent:

    Now to find Carl’s book!

    greetings from Amsterdam,
    William S.

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