An Argument for a Sieged Soul

I propose the phrase "Seiged by" as a proper emendation for the printer’s error in line 2 of Sonnet 146. The participial adjective "sieged" describes the poor soul as subject to an active state of forced starvation that will work with the various registers of the poem to suggest a state of spiritual "dearth" (2) that can be overcome by counteraction.

The idea of a beleaguered soul fits both the immediate register of warfare in line 2 and the later theme of famine and dominant spiritual centers circumvented by secular or temporal forces. In the first two lines of the sonnet we see the registers of spirituality, worldliness, and warfare established. "Soul" (1) (the "spiritual part of man in contrast to the purely physical" (OED)) and "sinful" (1) (which is "to be full of sin", sin being "a transgression of the divine law" (OED)) both establish a spiritual register which is contrasted by a secular or worldly register established through "center" (1) and "earth" (1). The juxtaposition of opposites fittingly leads to the militant or warlike register of line 2 with the adjective "rebel" ("refusing obedience …to the rightful or actual ruler" (OED)) and the noun it describes: "powers". We can see in lies 2-4 that the manner in which the "poor soul" suffers is much like one who is besieged. The soul "pine[s]" (3) ("To exhaust or consume … esp. by want of food"(OED)) and "suffer[s] dearth" (3) ("A condition in which food is scarce and dear", "scarcity of anything" (OED)) in the same way that a town under siege suffers famine and scarcity at the hands of forces which surround them and cut their supply lines.

The idea of circumvention implicit of siege warfare is appropriate not only to the cause of the "dearth", but also to the idea of the spiritual and rightful authority as being surrounded by a hostile, temporal, and in this case (as signaled by "rebel") illegitimate force. This opposition is first established, as mentioned earlier, in line 1 with the "soul" being "the center" of a "sinful earth" (1). Next we see that the rebel forces, which besiege the soul, further surround it with raiment ("that the array" (2)). Lines 4-8 state this relationship in registers of property and legality; the soul’s "painting" of the "outward walls" (4) of its "fading mansion" (6) is, being a "costly gay" (4), at its own expense. The idea of "costly" walls of a deteriorating house (as in a "fading mansion") which surrounds the soul reinforces the notion of being surrounded be a detrimental worldly force.

The remedy offered by the speaker calls upon the "poor soul" to revitalize itself by taking from these "rebel forces" in the same way that they took from it. The inevitable fate of the body mentioned in lines 7 and 8 as food for worms is the loss that the "poor soul" should let "pine to aggravate [its] store" (10) which has been depleted by the "rebel powers[‘]" (2) siege (aggravate here being used in the obsolete sense of the verb- "to strengthen, increase, or magnify" (OED)). The speaker’s advice calls on the "poor soul" to reverse the nature of a siege, "Within be[ing] fed, without be[ing] rich no more" (12) by "liv[ing] thou upon thy servant’s loss" (9).

By besieging the beleaguerer whom, in line with the contrast in the spiritual and secular registers, is death, the "[poor soul] shalt … feed on death, that feeds on men" (13). Feeding on the source of its famine, the soul finds itself with a spiritual abundance that precludes death, "and Death once dead there’s no more dying then"(14).


Works Cited

1. Oxford English Dictionary Online. 2000. Oxford University Press. 5 September.

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