Starve a Body, Feed a Soul

In the interest of maintaining continuity of theme and achieving a full realization of Shakespeare’s complex metaphor, the phrase "Starved by" best completes the second line of "Sonnet 146". By being wholly consistent with the dominant register of consumption, "Starved by" is a logical extension of the overreaching metaphor which details the nature of the soul’s relationship to the body and the afterlife.

The soul and the body, or what Shakespeare calls "my sinful earth", are introduced immediately as the opposing subjects of the poem in line one. The soul to which the poem is addressed is at "the centre of [a] sinful earth" (1) or rather, at the core of a mutinous body with "rebel powers"(2). It is to the tone set by these initial words that the missing phrase of line two must closely adhere.

By inserting the phrase "Starved by" to begin the second line, the tension between the two actors, soul and body, is maintained. "Starved by", if used in this way, would also introduce the register of consumption which runs rampant throughout the rest of the poem. For example, the idea of starvation closely parallels the images evoked by the word "pine" in lines three and ten, meaning: "to exhaust or consume (a person, animal, etc.) by suffering of body or mind, esp. by want of food or by wasting disease…" (The Oxford English Dictionary Online). The two instances of "pine" are used to describe the nature of the soul’s suffering, for instance, the author asks, "Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth…?" in line three. With this in mind, "Poor soul, the center of my sinful earth, / Starved by these rebel powers that thee array…" does not seem a stretch.

Lines 7 and 8 present the next reference to consumption with the query, "Shall worms, inheritors of this excess, / Eat up thy charge?" The author refers to the body, that which is traditionally consumed by the earthly worms, in a scathing tone, rebuking the soul for its foolishness. The soul has sacrificed too much upon the "fading mansion" (6), upon "Painting … outward walls so costly gay" (4), walls which will inevitably fall no matter the pains taken to preserve them. What is the point of the sacrifice if the spoils fall only to the worms, the author asks, "Is this thy body’s end?" (8).

To reach a higher end, the soul is urged to allow its worldly body to retire so that the soul, not the worms, will thrive upon "thy servant’s loss" (9). Let the body "pine to aggravate thy store;" and therein feed what is most essential—the soul (10). If one heeds the final couplet, it becomes clear that to sacrifice the body is to "feed on Death," (13). The soul will no longer be "Starved by" the false adornments given to the servant body, no, it will be fed by that body’s very death and be reborn into eternal existence.


Works Cited
  1. Oxford English Dictionary Online. "pine". September 5, 2000.