Study Guide

A Dialogue between the Soul and the Body Stanza 2

By Andrew Marvell

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Stanza 2

Lines 11-12

O who shall me deliver whole
From bonds of this tyrannic soul?

  • Now that the body gets its say, it totally blows it in terms of originality. Lines 11-12 are basically a "I know you are but what am I?" situation. The soul posed a rhetorical question, asking whether anyone could emancipate it from the body. Now the body copycats but switches the blame. It wants to know who can free it from the tyranny of the soul.
  • Where the soul claimed prison and torture (in other words, physical problems and pains), the body's all about spiritual tyranny. "Bonds" can mean both physical and immaterial restraints, but "tyrannic" shifts the emphasis to the immaterial. This soul is an evil dictator!
  • Check out the cute visual echo of "who" and "whole," which underscores that the "who"—whoever it is—is the only ticket to the body's whole escape.

Lines 13-14

Which, stretch'd upright, impales me so
That mine own precipice I go;

  • Stretched out like an unfilled piecrust, the soul fills and animates the body, in this description literally forcing it upright.
  • Being upright might sound like a sweet deal, especially when it comes to getting that box of Oreos off high shelves, but the body's got a different idea. This uprightness is both painful ("impales") and scary: the soul makes the body so tall and unbalanced that it's like being a really scary cliff. And you know what's really scary about cliffs? You can fall off them.
  • Although the verb "impale" sounds like an iron spike going through someone's stomach, the body probably has a more benign sense in mind. You know how if your plants are drooping from their own weight you can prop them up with a few stakes?
  • Well, soul, you are the stake that props up the body. Only the body doesn't want that, so nobody wins.

Lines 15-16

And warms and moves this needless frame,
(A fever could but do the same)

  • Once the body has slammed the soul for keeping it upright, it moves on to another puzzling complaint: the soul keeps it warm and mobile, everything operating at 98.6 degrees.
  • But before the soul can pat itself on the back, the body comes out with a zinger in parentheses. Sure, the soul may keep things nice and hot but no biggie, folks—a fever does the same thing and no one wants that.
  • The double meaning of "needless" underscores the body's point, but in two separate ways. If "needless" refers to the warmth and mobility provided by the soul—as in, the body doesn't need the soul to warm and move it—then cold-burn: this body is self-sufficient. 
  • But if "needless" actually refers to the "frame" or body itself, and means something more like "unnecessary," then the body's going in a whole other direction. By calling itself worthless, the body implies that the soul is too. In other words, since this physical body is useless, there's no point in keeping it alive—yet another, but different, cold-burn.
  • Is it possible that the body is using its seriously low self-esteem to stick it to the soul? Let's read further, gentle friend, and find out.

Lines 17-18

And, wanting where its spite to try,
Has made me live to let me die.

  • The soul's still the subject here (that "its" is its "its," if you know what we mean). But watch out. The soul is not the only thing around here getting down with paradox. The body accuses the soul of brimming over with spite, but lacking a place to exercise it—"wanting" here basically means "lacking."
  • So where does the soul turn to vent its temper? The body. And here's where the paradox comes in. The soul brings the body to life, but that is so not a good thing. For one thing, the body is mortal, which means that, even though the soul animates it for seventy-odd years, eventually it's going to bite the dust.
  • Plus, since the soul is immortal, the body feels like life, however long, is a pretty raw deal. Sure, it's annoying for the soul too (see the "Stanza 1" Detailed Summary), but at least it can look forward to a body-less heaven. The body gets nothing out of this arrangement but a painful life and an obliterating death.

Lines 19-20

A body that could never rest,
Since this ill spirit it possest.

  • With life comes movement. Ever since the soul dragged the body into life, it hasn't been able to chill out for a single moment.
  • Plus, it's always Halloween for this skeleton, and not in a good way. By calling the soul an "ill spirit," the body casts doubt on the spirituality of the soul and associates it instead with the no-good supernatural. Like a restless ghost, this soul makes the body pace up and down the earth when all it wants is to be left alone.
  • Get a load of that short I lineup in this couplet: "since," "this," "ill," "spirit," "it." Kinda makes you wince, right? (See what we did there?) Head to "Sound Check" for more on all the assonance in this poem.

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