Summary and Analysis Sonnet 146



The poet now somberly ponders why his soul, as "Lord" of his body, spends so much of its time seeking earthly desires when it should be most concerned about ensuring its immortality. The first eight lines are a series of questions addressed to the soul. Why, the poet asks, when life on earth is so short, does his soul waste itself pining after the woman: "Why so large cost, having so short a lease, / Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?" Here the "fading mansion," which is symbolic of the woman and represents the temporal world, contrasts to the immortality promised in the Bible's Psalm 23: "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever."

In the third quatrain, the poet directs his soul about how best to earn salvation. Learn from the body's experience, he suggests, and let the lesson of the body's being rejected by the woman not be wasted: "Then, soul, live thou upon thy servant's loss, / And let that pine to aggravate thy store." What has before been important and all-consuming — that is, a sexual union — is transient; the soul is not.

The sonnet's piously spiritual reflection is particularly felt in the final couplet, in which the feeding metaphor suggests the image of "Devouring Time." The poet's argument extends the one made in line 12, "Within be fed, without be rich no more." Because death is an inevitable fact of life, the soul needs to prepare itself for when that time comes. Once the soul ensures its immortality, death has no hold, for "there's no more dying then" — the soul becomes eternal.