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.
This sonnet addresses issues of mortality and existence. It juxtaposes the spiritual and the physical as well as the transitory and the permanent. This work acknowledges the fact that the body returns to the earth after death to nourish the soil and feed the worms, thus perpetuating the life cycle.
Line 13, “So shalt thou feed on Death, that feeds on men,” encourages us to evaluate and re-evaluate Death as a concept; it is human nature that we analyze our own mortality. But, this sonnet poses another concept when read another way; why do we let Death feed on our mortality? Why do we not turn and feed on death? The concluding line, “And Death once dead, there’s no more dying then” is an answer to that impossible concept – that whether we hand ourselves over without a fight or feel ourselves immortal and out of the plane of Death’s grip, we will never the less meet the same end.
We invest in things that are temporary because it is our nature, line 5 addresses this by asking “Why so large cost, having so short a lease?” The human soul is trapped between the heavens and the “ rebel powers” of the “sinful earth”. It is these rebel powers that soil our perfect souls by probing us to questioning, doubt, and the nature of sin and death. To this Shakespeare asks “Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth?” when we know where it leads us.