Not from the stars do I my judgement pluck,

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.

  1. 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.

 


O, that you were yourself! but, love, you are
No longer yours than you yourself here live:
Against this coming end you should prepare,
And your sweet semblance to some other give.
So should that beauty which you hold in lease
Find no determination: then you were
Yourself again after yourself’s decease,
When your sweet issue your sweet form should bear.
Who lets so fair a house fall to decay,
Which husbandry in honour might uphold
Against the stormy gusts of winter’s day
And barren rage of death’s eternal cold?
O, none but unthrifts! Dear my love, you know
You had a father: let your son say so.

The real magic for happiness lies in being oneself. In fact, it remains a utopian idea most of the time as we all tend to imitate others. We compare and contrast and live a miserable life! All the joys and toils in life has to be faced by oneself. There will be many to share your joys and but there will be very few to share your sorrows. You will be all alone. Therefore, be yourself. And live happily.

 

When I do count the clock that tells the time…

When I do count the clock that tells the time,
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night,
When I behold the violet past prime,
And sable curls all silvered o’er with white:
When lofty trees I see barren of leaves,
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd
And summer’s green all girded up in sheaves
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard:
Then of thy beauty do I question make
That thou among the wastes of time must go,
Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake,
And die as fast as they see others grow,
And nothing ‘gainst Time’s scythe can make defence
Save breed to brave him, when he takes thee hence

 

When I count the chimes of the clock and watch the bright day sunken into terrifying night; when I see violets fading, and black curls all silvered over with white; when I see tall trees which previously offered shade to sheep and cattle but now with no leaves; and the green crops of summer tied up in harvested sheaves covered with scratchy dried out leaves, carried away on a wagon; then I begin to think about the endurance of your beauty and that you will have to decline and decay like everything else, because sweet and beautiful things lose their sweetness and beauty and die while watching new sweet and beautiful things taking their place. The only defence against Time’s scythe is to defy him when he takes you away, by having children.

A happy life can turn out be a sad one at any point of time. Time is a magician. It alters the reality from time to time. To adjust with this paradox is the biggest challenge one has to face in his life. Time is the supreme leveler. It creates equilibrium in the cosmos. Life in general is a journey from womb to tomb.

 

Your beauty would grow in a child of yours as rapidly as it fades in you..

As fast as thou shalt wane so fast thou grow’st,
In one of thine, from that which thou departest,
And that fresh blood which youngly thou bestow’st,
Thou mayst call thine, when thou from youth convertest,
Herein lives wisdom, beauty, and increase,
Without this folly, age, and cold decay,
If all were minded so, the times should cease,
And threescore year would make the world away:
Let those whom nature hath not made for store,
Harsh, featureless, and rude, barrenly perish:
Look whom she best endowed, she gave thee more;
Which bounteous gift thou shouldst in bounty cherish:
She carved thee for her seal, and meant thereby,
Thou shouldst print more, not let that copy die.

 

Your beauty would grow in a child of yours as rapidly as it fades in you, and when you are leaving your youth you could call that fresh blood that you give in your youth your own. Accepting this would be wise and it would ensure the preservation of your beauty; not doing so would be foolish and age would decay it. If everyone were to think like you it would result in the end of time and a sixty year lifespan would bring the end of the world. Let those coarse, unremarkable and crude people whom nature has not intended for breeding perish without issue. Whatever she gave to the best, she gave you more, and you should fully cherish those generous gifts. She printed her seal on you and by that meant that you should print more, not let that original die.

Beauty isn’t an eternal entity. It is perishable. It fades in course of time. Here, the focus is on physical beauty. The poet urges one to concentrate on beauty that transcends the empirical realm. This beauty is implied in nature. But the more one realizes it, the better he/ she becomes as a human being. On the other hand, those who depend on physical beauty which is fleeting, the end would be miserable. Such ‘crude people’ would perish without issue.(children).

 

If you have any sense of shame, admit that you don’t have any love in your heart for anyone

For shame deny that thou bear’st love to any
Who for thy self art so unprovident.
Grant if thou wilt, thou art beloved of many,
But that thou none lov’st is most evident:
For thou art so possessed with murd’rous hate,
That ‘gainst thy self thou stick’st not to conspire,
Seeking that beauteous roof to ruinate
Which to repair should be thy chief desire:
O change thy thought, that I may change my mind,
Shall hate be fairer lodged than gentle love?
Be as thy presence is gracious and kind,
Or to thy self at least kind-hearted prove,
Make thee another self for love of me,
That beauty still may live in thine or thee.

 

If you have any sense of shame, admit that you don’t have any love in your heart for anyone, since you’re so unwilling to care about yourself. I’ll admit, if you like, that many people love you, but it’s also obvious that you love no one. For you are so possessed with murderous hatred that you have no problem plotting against yourself, seeking to destroy the house that you should want to repair. Oh, change your way of thinking, so I can change my mind about you. Should hate have a more beautiful home than love? Be gracious and kind, like your appearance—or at least be kind-hearted to yourself. Have a child out of love for me, so your beauty will live on in your children, if not in you.

Sense of shame is the manifestation of hatred. One who doesn’t love himself can’t love others. On the contrary you are loved by many but you love no one. A person possessed with ‘murderous hatred would definitely do that. Which is more beautiful love or hatred? The beauty of parents is passed on to their children. The fading beauty of the parents thus would touch immortality by their offs springs.

 

Is it for fear to wet a widow’s eye,…

Is it for fear to wet a widow’s eye,
That thou consum’st thy self in single life?
Ah, if thou issueless shalt hap to die,
The world will wail thee like a makeless wife,
The world will be thy widow and still weep,
That thou no form of thee hast left behind,
When every private widow well may keep,
By children’s eyes, her husband’s shape in mind:
Look what an unthrift in the world doth spend
Shifts but his place, for still the world enjoys it;
But beauty’s waste hath in the world an end,
And kept unused the user so destroys it:
No love toward others in that bosom sits
That on himself such murd’rous shame commits

 

The poet asks if it is fear of making someone a widow that causes the young man to refuse to marry. The argument is unsound, says the poet, for a beautiful youth must leave behind him a form or copy of himself, otherwise the world itself will endure widowhood, and yet have no consolation for its loss. For it will not be able to view the young man resurrected in the eyes of his children. If he persists in this single obduracy, it is an unforgivable shame, showing lack of love to others and equivalent to murdering himself and all his heirs.

To wet a widow’s eye = to cause your future wife to weep for you (if you should die after marrying her). That you waste away in bachelorhood. There is also a sexual meaning in consum’st. See notes to 3.7,8; 4.9 etc. issueless = childless, without issue, without children.  shalt hap to = should happen to. The world will wail thee = the world will mourn for you;
like = as if it (the world) were; as if you, (the youth) were; the latter meaning is obviously not so relevant, but the youth, being unmarried, could be perceived as being in the same state as a widow. a makeless wife = a wife without a mate, one who has been widowed. The argument therefore is that, if the man does not marry, although he will not leave a widow behind him in the conventional sense, should he die, yet the world will be his widow instead, an even greater tragedy than if he were in fact married and with children. The world will mourn him as a makeless wife mourns her husband. The idea is expanded in the following line. By children’s eyes = by looking at her children. The eyes represented the whole person, so the children’s eyes are the children themselves. Shifts but his place = Simply moves from one place to another. his = its and refers to the money which the unthrift spends. its as possessive pronoun was not used by the Elizabethans. The money that the prodigal spends becomes available again through circulation. It merely shifts its place from one pocket to another. The widow may keep the husband in mind by looking on the children, who bear his form and image

That picks up that bosom of the previous line, where it = that person, that heart. Hence the meaning becomes ‘…exists in that heart which, against itself etc.’ himself = itself.
such murd’rous shame – the shame of not begetting an heir. Rather excessive language for such a fault, one would think, but there is also the sexual innuendo where murderous shame means killing the seed by masturbation, and the exaggerated language thereby takes on a slightly humorous flavour.

 

Being single you will be effectively nothing.

Music to hear, why hear’st thou music sadly?
Sweets with sweets war not, joy delights in joy:
Why lov’st thou that which thou receiv’st not gladly,
Or else receiv’st with pleasure thine annoy?
If the true concord of well-tuned sounds,
By unions married do offend thine ear,
They do but sweetly chide thee, who confounds
In singleness the parts that thou shouldst bear:
Mark how one string sweet husband to another,
Strikes each in each by mutual ordering;
Resembling sire, and child, and happy mother,
Who all in one, one pleasing note do sing:
Whose speechless song being many, seeming one,
Sings this to thee, ‘Thou single wilt prove none’.

 

The theme of the youth’s failure to marry and to have children is continued. A lesson is drawn from his apparent sadness in listening to music. Music itself is concord and harmony, similar to that which reigns in the happy household of father, child and mother, as if they were separate strings in music which reverberate mutually. The young man is made sad by this harmony because he does not submit to it. In effect it admonishes him, telling him that, in dedicating himself to a single life he makes himself worthless, a nonentity, a nothingness.

Two interpretations are given of this: a) You are yourself like music to listen to, so why do you respond to it sadly? b) Why is it that, when there is music to listen to, you are saddened by it.? The former question asks why a person who is so framed as to appear perfect to the observer, rounded and harmonious as a piece of music, should be made sad by listening to music. Sweet (things) and joy are inherently harmonious, they do not fight against themselves. The construction of these first two lines is consciously melodic. Musis music, sweets sweets, joy joy. A slight air of disharmony sets in with lines 3 and 4, with ‘receiv’st not glady, receiv’st thine annoy’. Why do you love the music that you listen to (receive), even though it does not give you pleasure? Do you take delight in that which causes you pain?
annoy = that which annoys or irks you, annoyance. Probably a sexual innuendo is present in these two lines (3-4), based on the words ‘receiv’st’ and ‘pleasure’. A two fold idea runs through this sentence, that of sounds united in harmony (by unions married) and that of souls united in married bliss. Hence the sweet harmony of music reprimands him because he destroys, by remaining single, the harmony which would accompany him as a married man, and also he destroys the concord of music by not playing his part. unions = marriages, harmonies, counterpoint. The term seems to have a musical connotation, that of sounds united in harmony although OED does not give any musical definition for union. The closeness of the word to unison does however keep the musical imagery at the forefront of one’s mind. Shakespeare only uses the word infrequently, six times in total, two of which, in Hamlet, relate to the meaning ‘pearl’. the parts that thou shouldst bear = the parts you should play in married life, or, using the musical imagery, in music, by playing an instrument. A large number of connected meanings interplay in these two lines. ‘As a player, or as a singer, you ruin the harmony, by attempting to play solo, by mistaking and miscuing the parts of the melody or song; while as a single man you abuse your parts by not mingling them, as you should, so that they bear fruit (children). You should bear the part of a father, while the chosen she will bear your children. The musical image continues, with the addition of the idea of marriage in the wordhusband. The reference here is probably to the strings of a lute, which were strung in pairs, known as courses. It was the most commonly used musical instrument of the period, already having had a long history. Much music was written for it, and Shakespeare would have been familiar with it. The double strings provide a richer tone, as they reverberate in harmony. The use of courses is not however restricted to lutes, as mandolins, guitars and theorbos were also set with them. The strings reverberate against each other. They mutually respond, in appropriate order.
each in each = ?? each string in each course. Only adjacent strings in the same course could physically strike each other.
mutual ordering – this could refer to the positioning and sequential movement of the fingers, or it could be a reference to the ordered harmony of the music. The strings, in their mutual harmony, resemble a happy family. There is a sideways glance here at the Holy Family, Mary, Jesus and Joseph, who would have been depicted in numerous church paintings of the time. They were the archetype of the well ordered family. See the illustration above. The father, child and mother are united in harmony, as the strings of the lute produce a harmonius tune. The song is instrumental, composed of many strings and notes, hence speechless, but it is a unity in its harmony. Although polyphonic its melodic line seems to be ‘one’, a unity. Being single you will be effectively nothing.
prove = turn out to be, become. The number one was considered proverbially to be equivalent to nothing (perhaps in the context of very large numbers). There is also the meaning ‘You will turn out to be neither song, nor note, nor harmony, nor happy family’.

 

Lo in the orient when the gracious light…

Lo in the orient when the gracious light
Lifts up his burning head, each under eye
Doth homage to his new-appearing sight,
Serving with looks his sacred majesty,
And having climbed the steep-up heavenly hill,
Resembling strong youth in his middle age,
Yet mortal looks adore his beauty still,
Attending on his golden pilgrimage:
But when from highmost pitch with weary car,
Like feeble age he reeleth from the day,
The eyes (fore duteous) now converted are
From his low tract and look another way:
So thou, thy self out-going in thy noon:
Unlooked on diest unless thou get a son

Children are gifts of God. The off springs of any species are the extension of their personalities. When it comes to human beings, especially in holy marriage, the children manifest the pure love of the couples. But this instinct for union for the existence of the humankind can degenerated into lust, which is just momentary. If the lust dies in itself, the life loses its sublime values. It ceases to be a real life. However, what about those celibate ones? What about gender discrimination? Be it son or daughter, I believe is the extension of human generation.

Then let not winter’s ragged hand deface,…

Then let not winter’s ragged hand deface,
In thee thy summer ere thou be distilled:
Make sweet some vial; treasure thou some place,
With beauty’s treasure ere it be self-killed:
That use is not forbidden usury,
Which happies those that pay the willing loan;
That’s for thy self to breed another thee,
Or ten times happier be it ten for one,
Ten times thy self were happier than thou art,
If ten of thine ten times refigured thee:
Then what could death do if thou shouldst depart,
Leaving thee living in posterity?
Be not self-willed for thou art much too fair,
To be death’s conquest and make worms thine heir

How to conquer death? It is an age-old question. The poet urges not to be selfish. If so, worms would be your heir. Those who are happier, willing to loan, they try to give others than accumulate everything for themselves. Altruism is not usury; it is another form of greed. Your bad times are the result of your actions. The law of Karma is so true. A person who thinks of others leads a better life than others who are not. This thinking about others but shouldn’t be due to jealousy or cunningness. It must be backed by pure purpose of life- to transcend death by good and charitable actions! Death is helpless if you should depart!

Those hours that with gentle work did frame…

Those hours that with gentle work did frame
The lovely gaze where every eye doth dwell
Will play the tyrants to the very same,
And that unfair which fairly doth excel:
For never-resting time leads summer on
To hideous winter and confounds him there,
Sap checked with frost and lusty leaves quite gone,
Beauty o’er-snowed and bareness every where:
Then were not summer’s distillation left
A liquid prisoner pent in walls of glass,
Beauty’s effect with beauty were bereft,
Nor it nor no remembrance what it was.
But flowers distilled though they with winter meet,
Leese but their show, their substance still lives sweet

Human life is a mystery. Human beings are led through unknown path by God, fate and such powers that control them. It reminds us of the old saying, “Man proposes, God disposes”. We look for beauty even when we know that it is perishable. We look for perfection even when we know that it is quite impossible. The beauty of human life lies in its uncertainty and absurdity. If everything happens according to our will and wish there is no charm in our lives. Every day, new challenges are there for man to face. And when he emerges successful in overcoming them, his life becomes happier, more contented and more fulfilled.