‘Not from the stars do I my judgement pluck’ also known as sonnet 14, is one of the 154 sonnets Shakespeare wrote during his lifetime. This work falls into the series known as the Procreation Sonnets. They are all directed at the Fair Youth (to whom the vast majority of the sonnets are devoted) who is encouraged to have children in order to prolong his influence on the world.
Explore Sonnet 14: Not from the stars do I my judgement pluck
The speaker in this work acknowledges the fact that he is unable to predict the future. The stars tell him nothing of what’s to come, for the world or for individuals. But he does know one thing for sure. That if the Fair Youth does not have a child then his beauty is going to disappear from the world entirely.
‘Not from the stars do I my judgement pluck’ by William Shakespeare is a fourteen-line sonnet. It is structured in the form which has come to be synonymous with the poet’s name. It made up of three quatrains, or sets of four lines, and one concluding couplet, or set of two rhyming lines. The poem follows a consistent rhyme scheme that conforms to the pattern of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG and it is written in iambic pentameter. This means that each line contains five sets of two beats, known as metrical feet. The first is unstressed and the second stressed. It sounds something like da-DUM, da-DUM.
As is common in Shakespeare’s poems, the last two lines are a rhyming pair, known as a couplet. They often bring with them a turn or volta in the poem. They’re sometimes used to answer a question posed in the previous twelve lines, shift the perspective, or even change speakers.
Shakespeare makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Not from the stars do I my judgement pluck’. These include but are not limited to alliteration, enjambment, and accumulation. Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. for example, “princes” and “predict” in lines seven and eight.
Accumulation is a literary device that relates to a list of words or phrases that have similar, if not the same, meanings. In a poem, story, or novel, these words are grouped together or appear scattered throughout a work. They collect or pile up, and a theme, image, sensation, or deeper meaning is revealed. There are a couple of examples in this poem, most obviously the third and fourth lines in which the speaker tries to sum up the things that he can’t predict.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For example, the transition between lines seven and eight.
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;
In the first lines of ‘Not from the stars do I my judgement pluck’ the speaker, addressing the Fair Youth, describes what he can’t do. He knows that is unable to change the foundational structure of things. He can’t look at the stars and base his judgement on them. They don’t relay to him the meaning of life or the choices he should make. The speaker considers astrology and suggests that he does seem to understand or know it. But, it doesn’t tell him about “good or evil luck”.
The speaker has no access to information about what is going to happen in the future, good and bad events are unknown to him. He can’t predict “plagues,” or famines, or what a season will be like.
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:
He adds in the fifth line of ‘Not from the stars do I my judgement pluck’ that he also can’t tell what, “to brief minutes,” or down to the minute, what a person’s life will bring. The speaker goes from the larger and sweeping to the small and individual. He knows nothing of either.
It’s impossible for him, he says, to know what is going to happen to or for princes. It makes no difference who the person is, all fortunes are lost on him. The eighth line of this stanza ends in a semicolon, ending this section and encouraging the reader onto the next.
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 thyself, to store thou wouldst convert;
In the final quatrain of ‘Not from the stars do I my judgement pluck’ the speaker changes tactics and says that despite all the things he doesn’t know, he knows the future when he looks in the Fair Youth’s eyes. From “thine eyes” he derives, or sources, his “knowledge”.
This young man’s eyes are to him “constant stars” that guides him to a single piece of information he has to pass on. It is that which this whole series of sonnets is based around, having children. The speaker says that truth and beauty will only “thrive” if the Fair Youth has a child to pass those two qualities onto.
Or else of thee this I prognosticate:
Thy end is truth’s and beauty’s doom and date.
In the final two lines of ‘Not from the stars do I my judgement pluck’, which come after the turn or volta in the poem, the speaker tells the Fair Youth what’s going to happen if he doesn’t have children. He knows that without a child when this young man dies that it will be the end of “truth and beauty” too. It is necessary that he passes his attributes on as soon as he can.