Notes Essay

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------------------------------------------------- Poor Soul, the Center Summary The speaker addresses this poem to his soul, asking it in the first stanza why it, the center of his “sinful earth” (that is, his body), endures misery within his body while he is so concerned with maintaining its “paint[ed]” outward appearance—that is, why his soul allows his exterior vanity to wound its interior life. He asks his soul why, since it will not spend long in the body (“having so short a lease” in the “fading mansion”), it spends “so large cost” to decorate it, and he asks whether worms shall be allowed to eat the soul’s “charge” after the body is dead. In the third quatrain, the speaker exhorts his soul to concentrate on its own inward well-being at the expense of the body’s outward walls (“Let that [i.e., the body] pine to aggravate [i.e., increase] thy store”). He says that the body’s hours of “dross” will buy the soul “terms divine”; and admonishes the soul to be fed within, and not to be rich without. In the couplet, the speaker tells the soul that by following his advice, it will feed on death, which feeds on men and their bodies; and once it has fed on death, it will enjoy eternal life: “And death once dead, there’s no more dying then.” Commentary Sonnet 146, an austerely moralizing self-exhortation to privilege the inner enrichment of the soul over the outer decoration of the body, is also the site of the most virulent textual controversy of any of Shakespeare’s poem in the sequence. The way the poem is printed in its first edition, its first two lines read: Poor soule, the center of my sinfull earth, My sinfull earth these rebbel poweres that thee array.... The repetition of the phrase “my sinful earth” at the start of the second line has long been chalked up to a printer’s mistake; it almost certainly could not have been Shakespeare’s intention to break his

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