SONNET 146 Poor soul, the center of my sinful earth, Lord of these rebel powers that thee array, Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth, Painting thy outward walls so costly gay? Why so large cost, having so short a lease, Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend? Shall worms, inheritors of this excess, Eat up thy charge? is this thy body’s end? Then soul, live thou upon thy servant’s loss, And let that pine to aggravate thy store; Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross;
Within be fed, without be rich no more. So shalt thou feed on death, that feeds on men, And death once dead, there’s no more dying then. Sonnet 146, as in all Shakespearean sonnets, exemplifies the importance of poem structure. Following the rhyme scheme ABAB CDCD EFEF GG, this English sonnet (now called Shakespearean), distinguishes its author by the format in which it follows. Consisting of a total of fourteen lines, this body of this poem contains three quatrains and ends with a rhyming couplet.
Not only does Sonnet 146 encompass all the necessities of a Shakespearean sonnet, it also displays William Shakespeare’s mastery in his use of control of language, tone, and meaning that is portrayed to the reader. In the opening of the poem, in quatrain one, we see the speaker as he wrestles with his own personal conflict between the spiritual and material state that he has found himself in. For here in this Shakespearean sonnet, the speaker addresses not a friend, lover, or mistress – only his own “poor soul” that has suddenly been placed at the center of his “sinful earth” (line 1).
The speaker reprimands his soul for spending so much on its “outward walls” (line 4). In quatrain two, the poet asks the question of why so much effort is put into the investing of the things that are temporary: “Why so large cost, having so short a lease” (line 5). For at death, only worms will inherit the costly excesses. In quatrain three, the speaker concludes his argument by warning his soul to use the body as “thy servant” (line 9).
Let the outside wither -“pine”- so that the inner soul can prosper -“aggravate thy store” (line 10). In conclusion, the rhyming couplet shows us the speaker’s only solution to this inevitable fact of life – death. The soul needs to prepare itself for when the time comes and it must face death. For the soul can outlive the body, and even conquer death, as we see in line 13 and 14: “So shalt thou feed on Death, that feeds on men / And Death once dead, there’s no more dying then. “
This sonnet is one of few written by Shakespeare that reflects a more religious tone, as the words sinful, divine, and soul are present. What an interesting insight this provides to the reader about the writer’s own potential internal struggle with morality. For just as the speaker asserts here in this poem, so too us true for us in our own Christian faith – that when we focus on the body (the temporary) by allowing ourselves to worry over the adorning of it, then we do so at the expense of our soul (the eternal).