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Not From The Stars Do I My Judgment Pluck (Sonnets XIV) -- William Shakespeare

Guest poem submitted by Caroline Mann:
(Poem #808) Not From The Stars Do I My Judgment Pluck (Sonnets XIV)
 Not from the stars do I my judgment 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 thyself to store thou wouldst convert.
        Or else of thee this I prognosticate;
        Thy end is truth's and beauty's doom and date.
-- William Shakespeare
This is my favorite sonnet. It travels from nature to humanity with perfect
language before suddenly falling into one of Shakespeare's five themes
(time, death, unrequited love, splendid love, and procreation). The
transition from astronomy to sex is perfectly constructed. I am not trying
to trivialize this poem; I still love it for its language and fluid thought.
The connection between stars and eyes is also magnificent.


[thomas adds]

I don't know the Sonnets [1] as well as I should, hence I'm always glad to
run them on the Minstrels - reading and writing commentaries invariably
enhances my knowledge and appreciation of these wonderful works of genius.
My sincerest thanks go to Caroline for submitting today's poem.

"Not From The Stars Do I My Judgment Pluck" seems fairly difficult to
understand on first reading. The problem is partly syntactic (the Bard's
often convoluted phraseology, coupled with the difficulty that Elizabethan
English presents to modern readers, makes parsing the lines no easy task)
and partly semantic (the subtleties of thought embodied in the sonnets -
both the individual poems and the sequence as a whole - are indicative of
the amazing width and depth of Shakespeare's insight into, well, everything
under the sun, really. As Britannica puts it, "In these sonnets the supposed
love story is of less interest than the underlying reflections on time and
art, growth and decay, and fame and fortune". ).

Difficult, but not impenetrable. The poem starts with denial: the poet lists
all the things he cannot predict - good and bad luck, famines and
plenitudes, seasons and changes. He cannot apportion 'thunder, rain and
wind' to minutes that lie in the future; he cannot read the heavens to
advise princes. And yet he is not without knowledge of some sort, without
'astronomy' [2]. For his beloved's eyes are like stars, and in them he reads
all he needs to know of truth and beauty.


[1] Despite the lack of an explicit attribution, the capitalization leaves
no doubt as to the author.

[2] In Shakespeare's time there was no clear distinction between astronomy
and astrology. Indeed, even leading scientific figures like Kepler and
Newton dabbled extensively in horoscopes and geomancy.

[Notes on Form]

Form: English (Elizabethan) sonnet (who'd have thunk it?)
Metre: iambic pentameter
Rhyme scheme: abab cdcd efef gg

The rhyme scheme of the English sonnet is abab cdcd efef gg. Its greater
number of rhymes makes it a less demanding form than the Petrarchan sonnet,
but this is offset by the difficulty presented by the couplet, which must
summarize the impact of the preceding quatrains with the compressed force of
a Greek epigram.
        -- EB

[Minstrels Links]

Shakespeare's sonnets:
Poem #44, "My Mistress' Eyes are Nothing Like the Sun (Sonnets CXXX)"
Poem #71, "Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day? (Sonnets XVIII)"
Poem #219, "Full many a glorious morning have I seen (Sonnets XXXIII)"
Poem #363, "Let me not to the marriage of true minds (Sonnets CXVI)"

[More on Form]

Hook was profoundly dejected.

He was often thus when communing with himself on board ship in the quietude
of the night. It was because he was so terribly alone. This inscrutable man
never felt more alone than when surrounded by his dogs. They were socially
inferior to him.

Hook was not his true name. To reveal who he really was would even at this
date set the country in a blaze; but as those who read between the lines
must already have guessed, he had been at a famous public school; and its
traditions still clung to him like garments, with which indeed they are
largely concerned. Thus it was offensive to him even now to board a ship in
the same dress in which he grappled her, and he still adhered in his walk to
the school's distinguished slouch. But above all he retained the passion for
good form.

Good form! However much he may have degenerated, he still knew that this is
all that really matters.

From far within him he heard a creaking as of rusty portals, and through
them came a stern tap-tap-tap, like hammering in the night when one cannot
sleep. "Have you been good form to-day?" was their eternal question.

"Fame, fame, that glittering bauble, it is mine", he cried.

"Is it quite good form to be distinguished at anything?" the tap-tap from
his school replied.

"I am the only man whom Barbecue feared", he urged, "and Flint feared

"Barbecue, Flint--what house?" came the cutting retort.

Most disquieting reflection of all, was it not bad form to think about good

His vitals were tortured by this problem. It was a claw within him sharper
than the iron one; and as it tore him, the perspiration dripped down his
tallow countenance and streaked his doublet. Ofttimes he drew his sleeve
across his face, but there was no damming that trickle.

Ah, envy not Hook.

There came to him a presentiment of his early dissolution. It was as if
Peter's terrible oath had boarded the ship. Hook felt a gloomy desire to
make his dying speech, lest presently there should be no time for it.

"Better for Hook", he cried, "if he had had less ambition!" It was in his
darkest hours only that he referred to himself in the third person.

"No little children to love me!"

Strange that he should think of this, which had never troubled him before;
perhaps the sewing machine brought it to his mind. For long he muttered to
himself, staring at Smee, who was hemming placidly, under the conviction
that all children feared him.

Feared him! Feared Smee! There was not a child on board the brig that night
who did not already love him. He had said horrid things to them and hit them
with the palm of his hand, because he could not hit with his fist, but they
had only clung to him the more. Michael had tried on his spectacles.

To tell poor Smee that they thought him lovable! Hook itched to do it, but
it seemed too brutal. Instead, he revolved this mystery in his mind: why do
they find Smee lovable? He pursued the problem like the sleuth-hound that he
was. If Smee was lovable, what was it that made him so? A terrible answer
suddenly presented itself--"Good form?"

Had the bo'sun good form without knowing it, which is the best form of all?

        -- J. M. Barrie, "Peter Pan"

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