Not from the stars do I my judgement pluck,
And yet methinks I have astronomy,
But not to tell of good, or evil luck,
Of plagues, of dearths, or seasons’ quality,
Nor can I fortune to brief minutes tell;
Pointing to each his thunder, rain and wind,
Or say with princes if it shall go well
By oft predict that I in heaven find.
But from thine eyes my knowledge I derive,
And constant stars in them I read such art
As truth and beauty shall together thrive
If from thy self, to store thou wouldst convert:
Or else of thee this I prognosticate,
Thy end is truth’s and beauty’s doom and date.
This sonnet introduces a variant of the procreation theme, tying it in with predictions of the future made, not through astrology (Astronomy), as would normally be expected, but through taking the youth’s eyes as stars in the heavens which foretell the future.
The comparison of stars with eyes is traditional love lore in which the beloved assumes the qualities of everything that is angelic and heavenly. Drayton, Sydney and other contemporary poets made use of it. (See the example from Sidney at the bottom of this page). Shakespeare implies here that the foreknowledge he has from the ‘stars’ of the youth’s eyes surpasses that derived from traditional astrology. He asserts that truth and beauty are doomed forever unless the young man chooses to perpetuate his line by having children.
- judgement = judgement or knowledge of the future;
pluck = obtain, seize. It does have a suggestion of reaching upwards, as in plucking an apple from the sky, and perhaps suggests the upward reaching hand of an astrologer bringing down knowledge from the stars. Possibly also a belittling sense, in that astrologers were notorious for plucking predictions from the bizarrest concatenations of planetary movements.
Astronomy in Elizabethan times was much closer to what we would nowadays term astrology. It was not yet weighted down with knowledge of what the planets and stars actually are, as modern day astronomy is. There was a widespread belief that the stars, in their various conjunctions, had an important and direct influence on the life of humans, both on individuals, and on social institutions. See the sonnet by Sidney, given at the bottom of the page. He calls those who consider the stars to shine merely to spangle the night ‘dusty wits’, for to him their importance was much greater. They were an importance influence in human lives. Although his sonnet, like this one, by its conclusion is somewhat tongue in cheek. (Note that Sidney uses the term astrology. He also reads Stellas’s eyes as if they were stars). The poet here claims to ‘have Astronomy’, i.e he understands it as a science, and then he proceeds to tell us how his knowledge differs from that of the traditional astrologer (lines 3-8).
We tend to think of ourselves as a more rational age, but a recent president of the United States, Ronald Reagan, relied on his wife’s astrologer to forecast for him propitious days for work and policy decisions.