Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
So shalt thou feed on death, that feeds on men,
- Heading into the final couplet, our speaker starts to wrap things up by saying something like this: "Listen up, soul. If you take my advice about working on your inner spiritual life, then you'll be the one defeating death, instead of the other way around."
- Except he sounds a lot more shocking and dramatic because he talks about death like it's some kind of creature with a huge appetite (sort of like those hungry worms that are going to eat our corpses).
- So, what's up with all this talk about feeding? Is the speaker trying to make death seem less scary by reminding himself that, even though death is going to destroy our bodies ("feed on men"), we can destroy death ("feed on" it) by living for eternity with God?
- How does this line of poetry make you feel about death?
And death once dead, there's no more dying then.
- Now he's all "Once death is defeated, then you won't die." That's a major paradox, Shmoopers. How can "death" ever be "dead"?
- Well, even though it seems totally contradictory, it makes perfect sense.
- That's because Shakespeare is dropping a major allusion to Judgment Day on us here. According to Christian theology, that's the last day of the world, when every dead body rises up out of its grave and reunites with its soul. At that point, everybody gets judged by God and the good Christians get to spend eternity in heaven.
- So, that's why the speaker insists there won't be any more "dying."
- Come to think of it, this line sounds a lot like Revelation 21:4: "and there shall be no more death."
- The idea that we can defeat death is pretty mind blowing, wouldn't you say? But we have to admit that we're still a little terrified. Maybe it has something to do with our speaker's use of repetition in these last two lines of the sonnet: death, death, dead, dying.
- Yikes, We're not sure which is more unsettling, this final couplet or the last two lines of John Donne's famous Holy Sonnet 10 or, "Death, Be Not Proud": "One short sleep past, we wake eternally / And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die."
- We can't say this for sure but it seems likely that Donne (who was only eight years younger than Shakespeare) might have read Shakespeare's Sonnet 146 at some point. What do you think?
- Okay. There's one more thing we want to point out before we wrap this up, Shmoopers.
- This reference to the end of the world reminds us of where we started in the opening line of the poem—with a reference to the creation of man and the beginning of human life on earth. (Remember when the speaker made that biblical allusion to Adam being formed by "earth?")
- So, basically, we've gone from the beginning of human life to the end of the world, all in just 14 lines.
- That's pretty impressive if you ask us.