Sonnet 153

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Sonnet 153

Cupid laid by his brand and fell asleep.
A maid of Dian's this advantage found,
And his love-kindling fire did quickly steep
In a cold valley-fountain of that ground,
Which borrowed from this holy fire of love
A dateless lively heat, still to endure,
And grew a seething bath, which yet men prove
Against strange maladies a sovereign cure.
But at my mistress' eye love's brand new-fired,
The boy for trial needs would touch my breast.
I sick withal the help of bath desired,
And thither hied, a sad distempered guest,
But found no cure; the bath for my help lies
Where Cupid got new fire—my mistress' eye.

–William Shakespeare

Sonnet 153 is a sonnet by William Shakespeare.


Sonnets 153 and 154 are filled with rather bawdy double entendres of sex followed by contraction of a venereal disease.[1] The sonnet is a story of Cupid, who lays down his torch and falls asleep, only to have it stolen by Diana, who extinguishes it in a "cold valley-fountain". The fountain then acquires an eternal heat as a result, and becomes a hot spring where men still come to be cured of diseases. The speaker then states that as his mistress looks at him, Cupid's torch is ignited again, and Cupid tests the torch by trying it on the speaker's heart. The speaker becomes sick with love and wants to bathe in the hot spring to cure himself, but he cannot. The speaker discovers the only thing that can cure his discomfort is a glance from his mistress.


Sonnets 153 and 154 are anacreontic,[2] which means they are written in the meter used by the Greek poet Anacreon in his poems dealing with love and wine. The two anacreontic sonnets are also most likely an homage to Edmund Spenser. Spenser’s Amoretti and Epithalamion has a three-part structure: a sonnet sequence of 89 sonnets, a small series of anacreontic verses and a longer epithalamium. Shakespeare imitates Spenser with a sequence of 152 sonnets, two anacreontic sonnets and a long complaint. [3]

The central conceit of Sonnet 153 derives from a work by Marianus Scholasticus, a poet writing in Greek in the 5th-6th centuries AD. The original epigram reads in translation "Beneath these plane trees, detained by gentle slumber, Love slept, having put his torch in the care of the Nymphs; but the Nymphs said to one another 'Why wait? Would that together with this we could quench the fire in the hearts of men.' But the torch set fire even to the water, and with hot water thenceforth the Love-Nymphs fill the bath."[4]


  1. ^ (2004). Sparknotes:No Fear Shakespeare: The Sonnets. New York, NY: Spark Publishing. ISBN 1-4114-0219-7.
  2. ^ Larsen, Kenneth J. "Structure" Essays on Shakespeare's Sonnets.
  3. ^ Larsen, Kenneth J. "Structure" Essays on Shakespeare's Sonnets.
  4. ^ Paul Edmondson - Author, Stanely Wells, Shakespeare's Sonnets, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2004, p.21

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