Sonnet 146 depicts a conflict between body and soul; a conflict that is riddled with irritation and disbelief as the soul confronts its "rebel powers" (2). The poem seems to be separated into two emotionally charged sections. First, the soul explains its frustration and then vows to overcome the injustices done to it. After considering the different, yet equally strong emotions in each half of the poem, it is certain the "poor soul" (1) could only be "vexed by the rebel powers" (2).
The first section of Sonnet 146 is one of frustration and doubt. Immediately the soul is irritated: "Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth / Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?" (3-4). The metaphors of these lines suggest that the soul suffers within the walls of the body it is housed, while on the outside, the walls are "painted gay" (4), or the body portrays happiness despite the souls suffering. Following those lines, the soul asks: "Why so large cost, having so short a lease/ Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?" (5 6). Here, the words "cost", "mansion", and "lease" continue the metaphor of the body being a domicile, within which the soul lives. The soul seems to be in disbelief that the body can waste so much when its lifetime is so brief. In other words, why does it seem so simple for the body to ruin its soul, when it will only hurt the body itself? The concluding lines of the first half read: "Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,/ Eat up thy charge? Is this thy bodys end?" (7 - 8). These metaphors seem to convey a sense of worried fear or agitation. The worms represent the devastation that will be felt by the body if it continues with its wastefulness (excess), and therefore kills its spirit. All of the emotions of this first section, irritation, disbelief, suffering, and agitation clearly show the vexation that is being experienced by the soul as it desperately attempts to make sense of the injustices being done to it, and discover how to save itself.
The concluding half the poem presents a new emotional view. Vexation, though not as obvious, is still applicable to this section. Commencing with line nine, the soul seems to resolve itself to overcome the grievances done to it. "Then, soul, live upon thy servants loss/And let that pine to aggravate thy store" (9 -10). The soul resolves to live in spite of the loss of the body, even thought its own suffering is the reason for the decay of its reserve (the body). "Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross" (11) connects its metaphors back to those of the previous lines that included the words "walls", "lease", and "mansion." It is as if the previous body has died, and the soul wishes to lease another mansion, or body, ("buy terms divine") leaving the wasted body behind ("selling hours of dross"). This progresses to the thought: "Within be fed, without be rich no more" (12) as the soul explains the importance of being fulfilled emotionally or spiritually, rather than being fulfilled materialistically, a sentiment that is carried over into the concluding lines of the poem. "So shalt thou feed on Death, that feeds on men/And Death once dead theres no more dying then"(13, 14). In this case, death represents the materialism that feeds on men (the body), and by realizing the importance of inner fulfillment over materialism, the body can save its soul. While there are no apparent emotions of vexation in these final stanzas, the determination of the soul is a direct reaction to the agitation caused by the body. The connecting metaphors from the two sections of the poem tie the different emotions together, and make them seem a logical progression.
Sonnet 146 is a conflict of body and soul, materialism and spirituality. The struggle of the soul is seen in two opposing emotional points of view, one of deterioration and one of reformation. The two missing words of line two mean a great deal to the specific emotions portrayed in each stanza. The words "vexed by" seem to be the most fitting choice, as it means irritation, agitation, and confusion. These emotions are all obvious in the first half, and while not so clear in the second half, the ferocity in which the soul vows to overcome the evils done to it could only be the result of extreme feelings of vexation.