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Sonnet Commentaries
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  • The commentaries show how to apply the Sonnet
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    Roger Peters Copyright © 2005



    SONNET 154

                Sonnet 154

    Sonnet 154

    The little Love-God lying once asleep,
    Laid by his side his heart inflaming brand,
    Whilst many Nymphs that vowed chaste life to keep,
    Came tripping by, but in her maiden hand,
    The fairest votary took up that fire,
    Which many Legions of true hearts had warmed,
    And so the General of hot desire,
    Was sleeping by a Virgin hand disarmed.
    This brand she quenched in a cool Well by,
    Which from love's fire took heat perpetual,
    Growing a bath and healthful remedy,
    For men diseased, but I my Mistress' thrall,
        Came there for cure and this by that I prove,
        Love’s fire heats water, water cools not love.

    The previous commentary considered the uniqueness of sonnets 153 and 154. Their relation to traditional sonnet sequences was remarked on, as was their function as an erotic finale leading back to the first sonnet and connecting to the poems and plays. As if to emphasise the consistency of the logical principles that Shakespeare applies to all his works, sonnet 154 repeats the theme of sonnet 153. The repetition in the final sonnet looks back to sonnet 76, at the halfway point of the set. There he emphasises that his philosophy needs no 'variation' (76.2) as it is based in the logic of life that generates the natural diversity of his writings.
          Because commentators do not understand the Sonnet philosophy, they have difficulty appreciating the function of the last two sonnets. They are unwilling to allow that the content of sonnets 153 and 154 is consistent with the logic of the whole set. But, even on an elementary level, the appearance of 'Mistress' or 'mistress' in both sonnets reinforces their connection to the Mistress sequence.
          In sonnet 154, the 'little Love-God' is asleep with his 'brand' by his side. Nymphs who had 'vowed' to lead a 'chaste life' (154.3), like nuns or vestal virgins and recalling Isabella from Measure for Measure, went 'tripping by'. But the 'fairest votary' (154.5) took 'his heart inflaming brand' in her 'hand' and disarmed his 'hot desire' (154.7) by quenching it in the 'cool Well' (154.9) of her chastity. The 'heat perpetual' (154.10), or the undying flame of increase that perpetuates human life, found a 'growing' (154.11) bath and helpful remedy for 'men diseased' or afflicted with the self-love argued against in sonnets 1 to 14.
          In the couplet, the Poet (in 'thrall' or natural bondage to the Mistress) 'came' (sexually) to her for a 'cure'. He recovers his natural logic when he bathes himself in the Mistress' 'well'. Hence he 'proves' that 'love's fire' can always 'heat water' but water cannot 'cool love'. The same logic is repeated at length in A Lover's Complaint, the poem that follows the sonnets in Q. Sonnets 153 and 154 anticipate A Lover's Complaint and the rest of Shakespeare's works.
          The previous 152 sonnets presented the case that the logic of increase in Nature is the prior condition for the eroticism in mythologies. All mythological writing is blatantly erotic as in the eroticism of biblical births, with Eve pulled from Adam's side, and the Virgin birth, etc. Sonnets 153 and 154 use the mythic logic of the set and so are replete with language that alludes to the sexual. The erotic interplay between the 'Love-God' Cupid and Diana's nymphs points to the logical basis for mythic expression.


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    Roger Peters Copyright © 2005


    Introduction    1-9    10-21    22-33    34-45    46-57    58-69    70-81     82-93    94-105    106-117
    118-129    130-141    142-153    154     Emendations


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