“Within be Rich, Without be Fed No More”

Shakespeare knew that life was a spiritual enterprise, that the essence of life was buried inside what Hamlet described as “this mortal coil.”  The Bard knew that human nature was to avoid this inner essence, preferring instead to invest in the external where sensual experience offers a ready deterrent from the excruciating labor involved in delving into the heart.  In his 46th sonnet he encouraged us to overrule those “rebel powers” that encourage arrayment in the gaudy apparel of this ego-driven “mortal coil.”  He knew that the accomplishments and accouterments that culture entices us with to avoid our inner essence gives us a sense of fulfillment that is illusory, leaving us with an inner emptiness gnawing away at our soul.  He suggested a different emphasis, “Within be fed, without be rich no more.”  I do not think that he would say that cultural contrivances have no value.  But when these superficies become predominant and we become the “Hollow Man” of T.S. Eliot or Willy Loman in the Arthur Miller play, “Death of a Salesman,” we have allowed superficial accomplishments to predominate at the expense of paying attention to our own soul.  This is what Jesus had in mind with his famous question, “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?”

And, with the quotation of Jesus, I think Shakespeare was quite aware of false piety and hypocrisy which facilitate a gross misinterpretation of that famous verse from the Bible.  Even spirituality can become a “thing” purveyed by a “thing-oriented”, objectifying culture and we can miss the danger of letting “godliness” and “piety” be merely a thing of the external, a matter of adherence to creeds and dogma while allowing the “stillness” of our heart to go untouched.  Thereby we reduce this teaching of Jesus to the superficial cognitive grasp of his teachings and disallow them penetration into our heart, failing to realize that in keep his teachings and the whole of our life on that superficial cognitive dimension we are “losing” our own soul.  This is the truth that Ralph Waldo Emerson had in mind when he expressed fear of coming to the end of his life and realizing that what he had lived was not life at all but a mere facsimile of life.  And that can be readily done under the guise of spirituality.  As Shakespeare noted, “With devotions visage and pious action we do sugar o’er the devil himself.”  Shakespeare was the most astute teacher of the human soul since Jesus.

 

Sonnet 146, Shakespeare

Poor soul, the center of my sinful earth,
Thrall to these rebel pow’rs that thee array,
Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth,
Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?
Why so large cost, having so short a lease,
Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?
Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,
Eat up thy charge? Is this thy body’s end?
Then, soul, live thou upon thy servant’s loss,
And let that pine to aggravate thy store;
Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross;
Within be fed, without be rich no more.
  So shalt thou feed on death, that feeds on men,
  And death once dead, there’s no more dying then.
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ADDENDUM—This is one of three blogs that I now have up and running.  Please check the other two out sometime.  The three are:

https://wordpress.com/stats/day/literarylew.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com

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2 thoughts on ““Within be Rich, Without be Fed No More”

  1. Anne-Marie

    How I wish I could let go completely of my false self and truly forget myself, but I find that I hang on to what is false or transient and to what is illusory so much more easily! As soon as there is even a little breakthrough, I find myself quickly clinging once again to some false security or certainty. Having said all this, as I age, I am becoming more aware of my mortality and the shortness of my life and this is helping me to cling to ‘things’ less tightly. I love that line, ‘within be fed, without be rich no more’. To me it encapsulates that the journey into true solitude is never lonely. It actually is of benefit to others and builds true community. It is not all about words but much deeper than that.
    This reminds me of Henri Nouwen: “Silence and solitude invite me to a gradual letting go of all the outer voices that give me a sense of well-being among my fellow humans and to trust in the inner voice that reveals to me my true name. Silence and solitude call me to detach myself from the scaffolding of daily life and to discover if there is anything there that can stand on its own when the traditional support systems have been pulled away…. Am I willing to make that journey? Am I willing to let go of whatever power I have left; to unclench my fists and trust in the grace hidden in complete powerlessness? I don’t know. I really don’t know. It seems impossible, since everything alive in me protests against this journey into nothingness…Somehow, I believe that this lonely task to befriend my death is not simply a task that serves me, but also a task that may serve others. ..The inner life is always a life for others.”

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