Fenc’d by these rebel pow’rs that thee array,
Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth,
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?
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.
Select an Answer
Which of the following best describes the theme of the concluding couplet (lines 13-14)?
A confession of sin before an almighty judge
An affirmation of the immortality of the soul
A declaration of rebellion against the powers of fate
An accusation that death is a faithless servant
A surrender to the inexplicable nature of life
Choice (B) is correct. Throughout the poem, the speaker directly addresses the soul. The speaker first questions his or her soul and then commands it to put its own needs over those of the body: “live thou upon thy servant’s loss,/And let that pine to aggravate thy store . . .” In other words, the speaker advocates ignoring physical or material concerns and focusing on increasing one’s spiritual well-being. The last two lines of the poem carry this idea to its logical conclusion: the soul should “feed on Death, that feeds on men,/And Death once dead, there’s no more dying then.” To paraphrase: the body will wither and die but the immortal soul will be enriched, and, having benefited from the death of the body, the soul will transition into some kind of eternal paradise. The image is a fascinating one: while Death is feeding on the body, weakening and ultimately killing it, the soul is feeding on Death, using the suffering of the body to improve its spiritual fitness or closeness to God, in preparation for the eternal afterlife. The theme of these lines is best described as an affirmation of the immortality of the soul.