In the first lines of "Sonnet 146," Shakespeare passionately addresses the image that is most central to the sonnet, the tormented soul. He begins the sonnet by speaking to the "Poor soul, the center of my sinful earth, / [ ] these rebel powers that thee array" (1-2). Because the soul is thought to be the center of ones being, the "sinful earth" can be compared to the body, which is plagued by sin. Likewise, in the second line, the body is referred to as the "rebel powers," which suggests that there exists a conflict between the body and the soul. The nature of this conflict cannot be completely understood, however, because the words that begin the second line are missing. Close readings throughout the sonnet, however, reveal that the soul suffers for the sins of the body, resents its responsibility to the body, and must feed on the body to gain eternal life, such that the soul could only be "galled by" the rebel powers.
The soul is most appropriately "galled by" the rebel powers of line two because this phrase captures how the soul fields the pain for the sins of the external body. The first image created in the sonnet is of the body as the sinful earth, with the soul at its center. In this line, the speaker shows no sympathy for the body, but for the soul, suggesting the soul, not the body suffers the unfavorable consequences. Likewise, this image of the earth contrasts between the center (the soul), and the dirt covered surface (the body). This contrast between the interior and the exterior is continued in the readings of "array" in the next line. One definition of "array" is "to clothe, attire" (OED 9a), which suggests that the soul wears the body like clothing. A second definition of "array," however, is, "(ironically) to dress giving a dressing to drub, thrash, discomfit, rout" (OED 10a). In this context, the "rebel powers that thee array" (2) can be understood in the sense that the soul dresses itself with the body, an act which causes its own downfall and physical abuse by the body. Again, the image that is created is of a corruption from the outside surface inward. Similarly, for the soul to be "galled by" the body would be for it to be, "affected with galls or painful swellings; sore from chaffing" (OED 3). This definition of "galled" lends itself to another image similar to the first two, in which chafing of the skin causes physical pain within. Thus, despite their distinctness, it is clear the soul is afflicted by pain from the sinful body, and that it is appropriately "galled by" the rebel powers of line two.
While the soul is clearly the facet of suffering for the sins of the body, this expense comes as a result of the souls resented responsibility to the body. In the second line of the sonnet, the reference to "rebel powers" likens the conflict between the body and the soul to two warring forces. The lines that follow, however, reveal the relationship between the body and soul to be more complex. Having juxtaposed the soul and body, the speaker goes on to ask the soul, "Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth, / Painting thy outward walls so costly gay? (3-4). The speaker asks why the soul "pines" (OED 2), or "undergoes pain" and suffers "dearth" (OED 3), "a famine," suggesting that the detriment to the soul is needless, or at least avoidable. The speaker then asks, "Why so large a cost " (5). The only logical answer to the speakers question is that such cost is not the inevitable consequence of two warring forces; rather, it is the price of the soul pays for its commitment to the body. In fact, this commitment appears as almost an underlying contract between the soul and the body. The speaker goes on to refer to the life of the body as a "lease," and later the speaker refers to the body asking, "Shall worms, inheritors of this excess, / Eat up thy charge?" (7-8). This implies that the soul has a certain responsibility to the body during the bodys life. So while the souls detrimental commitment to the body seems to be on its own accord, it seems more likely that such a choice is one of bitter resentment of ones responsibilities. The bittersweet loyalty of the soul to the body constructs a new component to the relationship between the two, a component best captured by saying the soul is "galled by" the rebel powers. The word "galled" literally means, "mixed with gall, made bitter" (OED 1). Thus, in the midst of its own suffering, it appears the soul is "made bitter" by its devotion to the body, making the soul of line two "galled by" the rebel forces.
While the first part of the sonnet establishes that the soul feels the pain of the sinful body, and maintains bittersweet but nonetheless devoted relationship with the body, the transition from inquiry to prescription within the sonnet leads to the creation of a new relationship between the soul and body. In theses lines the speaker encourages the soul transcend these ties by feeding on the dying body. The speaker says, "Then soul, live thou upon thy servants loss / And let that pine to aggravate thy store" (9-10). In this line the "servants loss" is indeed the end of the bodys lease on life. Moreover, in the same way that the soul pined or suffered for the bodys sins, it shall live upon the bodys death. Therefore the souls suffering is related to its store in eternal life. The speaker further suggests, "Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross; / Within be fed, without be rich no more:" (11-12). With "dross" being, "refuse; rubbish; worthless impure matter" (OED 4), the speaker tells the soul to invest in eternal life as the remaining refuse of the body wastes away leaving only what is pure, the soul. In the next line, the speaker asks the soul to do what it couldnt do before; instead of devoting itself to the body at its own expense, the soul must now feed on the body, for its destruction means eternal life for the soul. In fact, the second line of the sonnet alludes to the fates of both the soul and body when "galled by" is used in the second line. A third definition of "galled" is, "of land: bare through exhaustion or removal of soil" (OED 4). Such has to be the destiny of the soul; once the dirty body has withered away the soul alone will be left. Therefore, because eternal life of the soul requires that it feed on the body and gain new life in the bodys death, the soul is most assuredly "galled by" the body.
In light of the fact that the soul bears the sufferings of the body due to its resented responsibility to it in life and the necessity of the bodys destruction for the souls eternal life, the soul must be "galled to" the rebel powers. Thus, only "galled to" reflects how the relationship between the soul and body is essential for the earthly life of the body, as well as the final obstacle in the souls path to eternal life.
"Array." The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989
Assignment, Sonnets by William Shakespeare.
"Dearth." The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989
"Dross." The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989
"Galled." The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989
"Pine." The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989