We bet that when the speaker of this sonnet was a little kid he ran around singing that creepy little tune about worms and guts. You know the one: "The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out. They eat your guts, they spit them out." Because that's pretty much what he says in this poem when he reminds himself that worms are going to feast on his corpse when he's dead and buried.
At the same time, there are also a lot of references to metaphorical feeding going on in this sonnet. The speaker reminds himself over and over that his soul has been starving (figuratively speaking) for nourishment because he's been too busy worrying about a body that's just going to be gobbled up by worms. In other words, he uses feeding imagery to remind himself that since his mortal body will die and literally become worm food, he should focus on nourishing or feeding his soul so his immortal spirit can spend eternity in heaven.
- Line 2: In our "Summary" we talked about how a word or phrase is missing from this line because of a printing error in the first (1609) edition. Scholar Helen Vendler argues that the word "feeding" should be inserted here so the line reads like this: "Feeding these rebel pow'rs that thee array" (source). This makes it sound as though the speaker's spirit is metaphorically feeding his rebellious body and all of its worldly desires. In other words, the soul is letting the body have everything it wants. Why do you think Vendler chose this term over others? Do you think it works?
- Line 3: When the speaker asks his soul why it "pine[s] within and suffers "dearth," he's using the metaphor of famine and starvation to say that his soul hasn't been nourishing itself spiritually.
- Lines 7-8: Now the speaker moves from metaphorical feeding to literal feeding. Here, he's asking a set of rhetorical questions: "Shall worms, inheritors of this excess, / Eat up thy charge? Is this thy body's end?" Yep. Worms are totally going to eat our corpses when we die and get buried in the earth. So, why does the speaker ask these questions? It seems like a scare tactic designed to remind himself that his body is mortal and death is inevitable.
- Lines 10-12: When the speaker tells his soul to let his body "pine" (waste away), he's implying that his soul should nourish itself instead of feeding his bodily desires (for food, fancy clothes, sex, etc.).
- Lines 13-14: When our speaker says "death" usually feeds on men, it reminds us of those hungry worms that literally eat corpses back at lines 7-8. Obviously, our speaker doesn't want us to forget that all human bodies die. But, he also offers up a solution: by nourishing our souls, we can spend eternity in heaven, which, in his mind, is kind of like "feeding" on (defeating) death.