The Soul’s Starvation

The struggle between the body and the soul is a reoccurring theme in literature and life. It is up to the individual to decide the power of each, but often times the soul is shut out by the body and the earthly pleasures it seeks. This theme of conflict between the body and the soul is the prevalent theme of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 146. This poem, describing the struggle between the body and the soul, is not complete however, as it is missing the beginning of its second line. However, due to the prevalent register of siege warfare, its theme of conflict between the soul and the body, and the message of the soul’s salvation, the phrase "Starved by" should clearly begin the second line of this piece of work.

One reason for this use of the phrase "Starved by" is the poem’s obvious metaphor of siege warfare which subsequently leads to a register of hunger and nourishment, a product of siege tactics. In this poem, the soul is under siege by the body. It is surrounded by the body: "the centre of my sinful earth"(1). Cut off from the world, the soul is slowly starving: "pine within and suffer dearth"(3). Due to these rebel powers, the body, the soul is cut off from the world and is facing "A condition in which food is scarce"(OED 3), or a period of dearth. This register of food and nourishment is also reinforced by later lines in the poem: "Within be fed"(12), and "thou feed on Death"(13). Therefore, due to this siege warfare and because the soul is cut off from food and nourishment, the words "Starved by" are clearly appropriate to start the second line. This register of siege and starvation tells of the conflict between the body and soul. In this conflict it is obvious that the body is the more dominant force at this time: "Painting thy outward walls so costly gay"(4). The body, the walls that are evident from the outside, has nearly completely taken over and is in a sense painting or indulging in earthly pleasures. The author questions this practice in the poem however: "Why so large cost, having so short a lease, Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend,"(5-6). That is, the author realizes how temporary the body (fading mansion) is and wonders why so much is going into it that could go towards the health of the soul : "so costly gay"(4). It is in this sense of neglect that the soul is starved by the body. Although the body should feed and nourish the soul, it is slowly killing it by overindulging itself in temporary pleasures.

This dominance by the body (rebel powers), seen through the starvation of the soul, is not permanent however. The author realizes that the body is temporary but the soul is eternal. It is pointed out that this extravagance at the sake of the soul will not live past the body’s life: "Shall worms, the inheritors of this excess, Eat up thy charge? Is this thy body’s end?"(8-9). It is in this part of the poem where the reader is told the mistake of his ways. The body is in a way starving the soul even though it will live on after the body’s death. This charge, "a material load"(OED 1A), is just temporary and will one day be lost by the body to death symbolized by worms (inheritors of this excess). Nonetheless, the body is in control until death, starving the soul of nourishment.

Since this temporary siege will obviously not last, the author examines the act of salvation for the soul that will come from this: "Then, soul, live upon thy servant’s loss"(9). In this line, the body is regarded as a servant because once again the author points out its subservient role due to its limited lifetime as opposed to the eternal life of the soul. Since the body will inevitably perish, the author instructs the soul on how to realize this newfound salvation: "Then, soul, live upon thy servant’s loss, And Let that pine to aggravate thy store"(9-10). As the body decays (pine), the soul (thy store), is supposed to increase and be revitalized (aggravate) in its newfound freedom. The recently freed soul is instructed to gain strength by the divine time that it now has: "Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross"(11). Once again, the register of feeding is present in the author’s advice to the soul: "Within be fed, without be rich no more"(12). If this advice is heeded, the soul shall be strengthened ("Within be fed"), but if not, the person will fade away from its previous wealth("rich no more"). The author next restates his message in the final two lines: "So shalt thou feed on Death, that feeds on men, And Death once dead there’s no more dying then."(13-14). In this seemingly paradoxical statement the soul is nourished by Death, something that usually feeds off its victims. Even though the body dies, the soul is reborn, and it is in rebirth, a nourishing act, that the soul becomes truly eternal: "there’s no more dying then."(14).

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 146 analyzes the conflict between body and soul and discusses the problems of a dominant body that overpowers its soul. When the body is in control, it starves the soul of nourishment until the soul withers away. Therefore, in order to fit with the prevalent register, theme, and message of the poem, the phrase "Starved by" should clearly complete the second line of this sonnet.

Works Cited

"Charge". The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989.

"Dearth". The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989.