Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth,
[Why feed'st] 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.
CXLVI. In this Sonnet, which apparently stands alone, the poet reflects on the folly of bestowing excessive care on the body, the soul's outer covering and ministering servant. In conclusion, he expresses the resolution to attain immortality, by nourishing the soul at the body's expense.
1. The centre of my sinful earth. The soul is here spoken of as a "centre," encompassed by "sinful earth." "Turn back, dull earth, and find thy centre out," Romeo and Juliet, Act ii. sc. i, line 2, has been justly compared; but here "centre" has a somewhat different meaning.
2. [Why feed'st]. "Feed'st" is used in i. 6. In Q. the first three lines of this Sonnet stand thus:
Poore soule the center of my sinfull earth,
My sinfull earth these rebbell powres that thee array,
Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth.
It is manifest that the second line as thus given is wrong, but how it is to be corrected is a matter concerning which the opinions of critics have very greatly varied. The general scope of the Sonnet must be taken into
account. The principal subject is manifestly the feeding of the body and soul; and the conclusion come to is, that the latter, and not the former, is to be fed. The emendation, "Why feed'st," is thus suitable. Moreover, the "my" of the first line and the "why" commencing alike the second and third lines may have been the cause of confusion and error. Then, too, there is a verse of Southwell's "Content and Ritche" which Shakespeare may have had in view:
Spare diett is my fare,
My clothes more fitt than fine;
I knowe I feede and cloth a foe,
That pampred would repine
(Grosart's Reprint in Fuller Worthies' Library, p. 74).
These rebel powers. An excellently illustrative passage is to be found in Lucrece, lines 719-723, where the rebellion of Tarquin's fleshly lusts is spoken of:
His soul's fair temple is defac'd,
To whose weak ruins muster troops of cares
To ask the spotted princess how she fares.
She says, her subjects with foul insurrection
Have battered down her consecrated wall," &c.
Array. Clothe, bedeck. The late Dr. Ingleby maintained "that 'array' in this Sonnet means ill-treat or bring into evil condition" (Shakespeare: the Man and the Book, Pt. I. p. 166). But the context seems to preclude this meaning here, whatever might be the possible sense of "array" in another connection.
4. Painting, &c. A slight change of the metaphor involved in "array."
8. Thy charge. What has cost thee so much. Cf. Hamlet, Act v. sc. i, lines 99-101, "Did these bones cost no more the breeding but to play at loggats with 'em?" and Act iv. sc. 3, lines 23, 24, "We fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots."
10. To aggravate. To increase.
11. To be understood most probably of immortal renown, which is to be purchased by sacrificing a few years of life to intent study and enthusiastic literary work.
13, 14. Feeding on thy mortal body thou wilt feed on Death, and gain complete victory over him by a literary immortality.
How to cite this article:
Shakespeare, William. Sonnets. Ed. Thomas Tyler. London: D. Nutt, 1890. Shakespeare Online. 27 Dec. 2013. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sonnets/146.html >.
Did You Know?... A metrical foot consisting of one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable is called an iambus; a foot composed of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable is called a trochee; and a foot composed of two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable is called an anapest. The anapest is sometimes substituted for the iambus. Read on...
Points to Ponder... "I don't think it matters much who "W. H." was. The great question is, do Shakspere's Sonnets speak his own heart and thoughts or not? And were it not for the fact that many critics really deserving the name of Shakespeare students, and not Shakespeare fools, have held the Sonnets to be merely dramatic, I could not have conceived that poems so intensely and evidently autobiographic and self-revealing, poems so one
with the spirit and inner meaning of Shakspere's growth arid life, could ever have been conceived to
be other than what they are, the records of his own loves and fears. And I believe that if the
acceptance of them as such had not involved the consequence of Shakespeare's intrigue with a married
woman, all readers would have taken the Sonnets as speaking of Shakespeare's own life. But his
admirers are so anxious to remove every stain from him, that they contend for a non-natural interpretation of his poems." (F.J. Furnivall. The Leopold Shakespeare, p.72.)