Poetry: Shakespeare – Sonnet 146

Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth,
[……] these rebel powers that thee array,
Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth,
Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?
Why so large cost, having so short a lease,
Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?
Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,
Eat up thy charge? Is this thy body’s end?
Then soul, live thou upon thy servant’s loss
And let that pine to aggravate thy store;
Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross;
Within be fed, without be rich no more.
So shalt thou feed on Death, that feeds on men,
And, Death once dead, there’s no more dying then.

Shakespeare, Sonnet 146

While I don’t believe many people turn to Shakespeare for theology, one cannot read his writings without finding God and Scripture in them. Hamlet is deep in the reformation, Romeo and Juliet are of the nature of love, and you can find a distinction in word and action among the clerical class within his dramas. Furthermore, one can find in his sonnets bits of prayer and rather sound theology, such as with Sonnet 146.

And what can we learn from this poor sonnet, part of which is missing? We learn the nature of life and death, the true worth of things and the soul, and what we are truly living for. Here, Shakespeare poses this question: Why do you spend so much on your attire, your possessions, the fading things of this world? Do you wish to have all that your life was spent on eaten by worms along with your body? “Is this thy body’s end?” he asks.

Well, is it?

Thankfully, no. We were called to higher things. God calls us to more than this fading world but to life eternal. Therefore, let us follow the advice of the Bard. Let us “Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross;/Within be fed, without be rich no more.” What does this mean? It means we should “fear love and trust in God above all things” and store up “treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy,” where things are not eaten by worms and time (Matt. 6:19-21).

We feed our spirits, for while physical training is of some value, “godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come”(1 Tim. 4″7-9). So as we head into a season of death and dying all around us, bringing us closer to a time of life in the midst of winter, we “feed on death,” starving it of ourselves. For once death is dead, swallowed up in Christ’s victory, “there’s no more dying then.” (1 Cor. 15:53-55)

Blessings to you and yours,

~Madelyn Rose Craig

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