Shakespeare Sonnet 146

Updated on September 30, 2018
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

The real "Shakespeare"
The real "Shakespeare" | Source

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 146

As the speaker in sonnet 146 has for many years concentrated upon creativity, he has gained awareness that the decaying physical encasement cannot deserve the intense interest and attention that it often receives. The speaker's goal remains a moving force in his life. He wishes to acquire soul knowledge that is permanent.

Such a loft goal is the natural result of having lived a life of truth seeking for his creative efforts to fashion important sonnets that sing with love, beauty, and above truth. His constant sparring with his muse and untiring work in his writing have engaged him and place him on a path to soul-realization.

The speaker desires to rise above the vicissitudes of earthly living to enter into a realm of existence that allows one to know that death can never claim him. He is the soul, not the body, and the soul is immortal, and as he comes to unite with his immortal soul, he can aver that "there's no more dying then."

Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth

Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth
Fool’d by 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 shall thou feed on Death, that feeds on men,
And Death once dead, there’s no more dying then.

Reading of Sonnet 146

Commentary

The speaker in sonnet 146 addresses his soul (his true self), asking it why it bothers to continue to bedeck an aging body, when the soul is so much more important.

First Quatrain: Fooled by Physical Temptations

Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth
Fool’d by these rebel powers that thee array,
Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth,
Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?

In the first quatrain, the speaker of sonnet 146 directs a question to his soul, that is, his own true self, "Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth, / Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?" He is metaphorically comparing his physical body to a building.

The speaker is suffering as all mortals suffer, but he is aware that inwardly he is an immortal soul, and therefore, he finds it difficult to understand why he allows himself to be "fool’d by these rebel powers that thee array," or fooled by the temptations of the physical body.

Second Quatrain: The Temporary Abode of the Soul

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?

The speaker poses another question with a similar theme: why bother with a clod of clay in which the soul will remain for only a short while? Why spend time, effort, treasure on things for the body, which "worms, inheritors of this excess" will soon feast upon?

The speaker has grown weary of the constant care and adornment of the body, especially the procurement of elegant raiment that serves no purpose and begins to look unsightly when placed upon an aging body. The body is not important; only the soul is essential, and the speaker wants to follow and drive home the precepts that accompany this realization.

Third Quatrain: To Rely More on Soul than Body

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:

Because of the temporary stewardship of the body, the speaker instructs himself to live more inwardly, and let the body learn to live simply and modestly: "Then soul, live thou upon thy servant’s loss, / And let that pine to aggravate thy store."

The speaker tells himself to meditate on the Divine soul within and pay less attention to the gross outward coat of flesh: "Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross; / Within be fed, without be rich no more." He needs to be nourished by his spirit and not by his body.

The Couplet: To Overcome Death

So shall thou feed on Death, that feeds on men,
And Death once dead, there ’s no more dying then.

If the speaker continue to meditate on his true self and study the ways of the Divine Reality, he will be able to outsmart death. Although ordinary folks permit death to overtake them, those blessed one who unite with the soul become capable of transcending death, as they realize finally that the soul lives eternally: "there’s no more dying then."

This speaker continues to hold himself to his noble goal, one which remains the natural result of living a life filled with extraordinary creativity while sparring with the muse that he has always found engaging.

A Brief Overview of the 154-Sonnet Sequence

Marriage Sonnets 1-17

The speaker in the Shakespeare “Marriage Sonnets” pursues a single goal: to persuade a young man to marry and produce beautiful offspring. It is likely that the young man is Henry Wriothesley, the third earl of Southampton, who is being urged to marry Elizabeth de Vere, the oldest daughter of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.

Many scholars and critics now argue persuasively that Edward de Vere is the writer of the works attributed to the nom de plume, "William Shakespeare."

For more information regarding Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, as the real writer of the Shakespearean canon, please visit The De Vere Society, an organization that is "dedicated to the proposition that the works of Shakespeare were written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford."

Muse Sonnets 18-126 (Erroneously "Fair Youth")

The speaker in this section of sonnets is exploring his talent, his dedication to his art, and his own soul power. In some sonnets, the speaker addresses his muse, in others he addresses himself, and in others he even addresses the poem itself.

Even though many scholars and critics have traditionally categorized this group of sonnets as the "Fair Youth Sonnets," there is no "fair youth," that is "young man," in these sonnets. There is no person at all in this sequence, with exception of the two problematic sonnets, 108 and 126.

Dark Lady Sonnets 127-154

The final sequence targets an adulterous romance with a woman of questionable character; the term “dark” likely modifies the woman’s character flaws, not her skin tone.

Two Problematic Sonnets: 108 and 126

Sonnet 108 and 126 present a problem in categorization. While most of the sonnets in the "Muse Sonnets" do focus on the poet's musings about his writing talent and do not focus on a human being, sonnets 108 and 126 are speaking to a young man, respectively calling him "sweet boy" and "lovely boy."

Sonnet 126 presents an additional problem: it is not technically a "sonnet," because it features six couplets, instead of the traditional three quatrains and a couplet.

The themes of sonnets 108 and 126 would better categorize with the "Marriage Sonnets" because they do address a "young man." It is likely that sonnets 108 and 126 are at least partially responsible for the erroneous labeling of the "Muse Sonnets" as the "Fair Youth Sonnets" along with the claim that those sonnets address a young man.

While most scholars and critics tend to categorize the sonnets into the three-themed schema, others combine the "Marriage Sonnets" and the "Fair Youth Sonnets" into one group of "Young Man Sonnets." This categorization strategy would be accurate if the "Muse Sonnets" actually addressed a young man, as only the "Marriage Sonnets" do.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Linda Sue Grimes

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