Quatrain 2 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Why so large cost, having so short a lease,
Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?
- Now the speaker wants to know why his soul is spending so much time, effort, and money on a body ("aging mansion") that's just going to die because life is so "short."
- By the way, did you notice his use of antithesis here? "Large cost" and "short lease"? It really drives home his point.
- FYI, mansions are pretty common metaphors for bodies. And hey, it's got the word "man" in it, which is pretty poetically nifty, too (source).
- What's interesting about our speaker's mansion is that it's "fading," which suggests that he's getting older.
- At the same time, our speaker makes it sound like this is true for just about everyone—no matter what age we are, we're all aging and "fading."
- Why's that? He says we're all just renting or "leas[ing]"our bodies for a "short" time on earth.
- Of course, we don't technically "lease" our bodies. This is a metaphor for how our immortal souls are going to leave (a.k.a. move out of) our mortal bodies when we die.
- Welp. That's kind of a depressing thought. But hey, at least we won't have to rent a U-Haul truck or pack up a bunch of boxes, right?
- FYI, Shakespeare loves the idea that we rent our bodies. He says something similar in Sonnet 13 when he warns his younger friend that he should hurry up and have some kids because he's just got a "lease" on his "beauty" for just a short amount of time (Sonnet 13, line 5).
- So what's going to happen to our bodies (a.k.a. our "fading mansions") when our souls move out?
- Don't worry—that's coming.
Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,
Eat up thy charge? Is this thy body's end?
- Oh, yeah. Our bodies will probably be eaten by worms once they're buried in the ground.
- Come to think of it, Hamlet was just telling us the same thing the other day but we guess we forgot.
- Hey. Are you noticing a pattern here, Shmoopers? Our speaker loves him some legal metaphors. In previous lines, he talked about death in terms of a "lease" being up.
- Now, he's making it sound like worms are going to "inherit" all of our stuff when we die. That's not technically possible, of course. It's just out speaker's way of saying that worms are totally going to feast on the "excess" garbage that's on our bodies (clothes, bling, hair extensions, false eyelashes, you name it) when we're buried.
- By the way, our speaker is really giving his soul a hard time, don't you think? It's almost as if he's badgering it when he asks rhetorical questions that everyone knows the answers to.
- Are worms going to eat us? Is this how it's going to end? Yep, we are all going to die some day. Thanks for the reminder.
- Okay. Does all this gross talk about worms eating corpses remind you of the reference to famine and hunger back at line 3?
- It should. That's because it emphasizes the speaker's point that his soul has been starving (metaphorically) because it's too busy worrying about a body that's just going to be gobbled up by worms.
- It seems like our speaker is probably going to throw some more feeding imagery at us so let's keep an eye out for it.