• The Missing Words of "Sonnet 146"
  • A misprint in the publishing of "Sonnet 146" presents a great difficulty to those who read it. Although its metaphors are vivid in description, without the presence of the beginning of line two, the message becomes even more ambiguous. When considering the sonnet in its entirety, which includes word registers, metaphors, and imagery, it is most logical to assume that the missing words are "Ruled by". This beginning offers an indication for the direction of the interpretation.

    Consider the presence of word registers in the sonnet and how the added phrase fits within that frame. Throughout the poem we find word registers concerning issues such as religion and contracts, but more importantly in this case we see the register of war. In the register for war one would include "rebel powers", "array", and "suffer". "Ruled by" touches upon an aspect of war that has yet to be addressed by the already existing register, defeat. At the moment that the soul is being addressed the rebel powers are in control, there is nothing to be done except "…pine within and suffer." In other words the soul wastes away as sacrifice to become more superficially acceptable. The sacrifice does not completely satisfy the body. Life is fading anyway and therefore the soul’s action is in vain. "Why so large cost, having so short a lease, / Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?"(4-6) No power exists over death and death is the "rebel powers".

    Questioning the fate of the body after death is made without the expectation of an answer. Little will change the course of nature, but the lines, "Shall worms, the inheritors of this excess, / Eat up thy charge? Is this thy body’s end?"(6-7) become more like statements rather than questions. Nothing can compete with passing time and therefore the soul’s mission is inconsequential. The end of the sonnet reminds the addressed that time or life’s passing cannot be slowed or stopped, but that the soul can live upon the body and life’s breakdown. This life builds to an ultimate death. It is a death of completion because of the exhaustion of the supply upon which the body feeds. For example, "Then, soul, live thou upon thy servant’s loss. / And let that pine to aggravate they store; / Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross; / Within be fed, without be rich no more:"(9-12). One could liken this strategy to a strategy of war, which once again connects to one of the main overlying themes of war in the sonnet. The soul is depleting the life and body of all that the "rebel powers" are accustomed to and surviving on. Slowly, but surely the soul begins to turn the tables on the party that has ruled him.

    The end of the sonnet is reasoning with the soul to become the "rebel power" to the body and life. No longer should it be forced to suffer or be ruled by the fear of death. The soul should take advantage of the age of the body and the wisdom it can provide. "Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross; / Within be fed, without be rich no more;"(11-12) The knowledge of death makes one weary of it, but it is also true that with its end no longer can death scare one into submission. More particularly it can free the soul of its obligation to the body and life despite difficult times. It is a knowledge that can free men of all their burdens regarding death. "So shalt thou feed on Death, that feeds on men, / And death once dead there’s no more dying then."(13-14) Life is gone and can no longer be a burden to the soul now that it has been released from its "sinful earth."