Sonnet Cxlvi

Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth,
[ ] 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.

by William Shakespeare

Comments (4)

Various moralistic tracts from Mediaeval times onwards lamented the way the soul was neglected in favour of the body, and there was a long tradition of dialogues held between the two. It is probable that the debate goes back to ancient times and to Stoic beliefs, for Stoicism despised worldly and material goods in favour of the spiritual life, and Neo-Platonism elevated the soul to a status well above that of the body.
However this sonnet derives probably from a more homely tradition and relies more upon the moral opprobrium heaped upon extravagant displays of wealth by writers with a puritanical or jealous cast of mind, and perhaps also on sermons delivered from the pulpits.
It is said that this is one of Shakespeare's profoundly religious sonnets, almost the only religious one. Profoundly meditative might be a better description, since it nowhere mentions God, although it certainly considers the threat of impending death. Within the sonneteering tradition there had also developed a tradition of renunciation. The lover, tired of endlessly battering at the impregnable walls of the beloved's chastity, might as a final protest retire to the contemplative and religious life. To a certain extent the germ of this trend had been sown by Dante and Petrarch. http: //www.shakespeares-sonnets.com/
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