Study Guide

A Dialogue between the Soul and the Body Life, Consciousness, and Existence

By Andrew Marvell

Life, Consciousness, and Existence

We're going to go out on a limb here: when it comes to conversations about life vs. death, most people are pro-life. Existence usually beats out non-existence. But in "A Dialogue between the Soul and the Body," the soul opts for death. It's not that our whiny pal is suicidal. On the contrary: this shrewd little soul knows that death is merely the gate to bigger and better things, a chance to shed the body and get going solo. The body, on the other hand, seems more ambivalent about the life/death thing. Lines like, the soul "has made me live to let me die" (18) indicate that this guy isn't too excited about living either—even if it knows that death means nothing but The End.

That's why this poem splits up this trio of "life, consciousness, and existence." Once bodies lose life, they lose consciousness and existence, but for souls, existence and consciousness persist once a body's life has sputtered out. It's obvious who comes out on top here: the soul goes on and on.

Questions About Life, Consciousness, and Existence

  1. If a body can't exist without a soul, why does it complain so much about having one? How would the body answer that question?
  2. If souls exist after their bodies die, what's the point of even having a body? How might the soul answer that? 
  3. Does the body really want to die? What parts of the poem give you your answer?

Chew on This

It may sound super-dramatic, but the body would rather not live at all than live and ultimately die.

Come on, Soul, admit it. The body has it worse in this dialogue because death offers it no release.