Sonnet 14

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Sonnet 14

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

Sonnet 14 is a procreation sonnet and one of 154 sonnets written by the English playwright and poet William Shakespeare. The speaker declares that he has the power to predict the future, but not through the stars or fortune-telling but through the eyes of the poem's addressee, the Fair Youth.

Synopsis and analysis[edit]

Other sonnet sequences contain examples of astrological conceits, often where eyes are stars. The most notable was Sidney's Astrophil and Stella: “Though dustie wits dare scorne Astologie.” Sonnet 14’s term, “Astronomy,” retains its older sense of "astrology", a word Shakespeare doesn’t use. Shakespeare's division of astronomy and astrology was akin to James I’s in Daemonologie. Astronomy was lawful as was any astrology based on mathematical rules.[1]

Attempts to predict the future through mathematical rules were lawful. Attempts, however, to predict the future based on pars fortunae or Arabic parts were condemned. The poet begins by denying any skill in reading the influence of the stars (“Not from the stars do I my judgement pluck”); “pluck” evokes the practice of sortes virgilianae, where lots were randomly drawn, or sortilegy, where a card was plucked from a pack to divine the future (to ‘pluck for a card’ was to draw one from a pack).[1]

Yet Shakespeare admits to a mastery of an astronomy later identified as a reading of the youth’s eyes (“I have Astronomy”), but he denies skill in unlawful readings such as “to tell of good, or evil lucke.” To “tell” is to predict as might a fortune-teller or one versed in pars fortunae. The poet then focuses on the youth’s eyes (“constant stars”) where he can divine (“read”) truth and beauty.[1]

The appeal to the youth is to store or make store of himself (“store” can be read as livestock; “store” was used to translate the Latin foetura = young animal), thus continuing the play on husbandry in Sonnet 13. To “convert” the eyes (see Sonnet 7, line 11) is to direct them elsewhere: the youth must cease gazing upon himself like Narcissus, even as the poet “reads” his eyes by gazing upon them. If, however, the youth refuses to beget an heir it will be the end also of truth and beauty.[1]



  1. ^ a b c d Larsen, Kenneth J.. "Sonnet 14". Essays on Shakespeare's Sonnets. Retrieved 24 November 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Alden, Raymond (1916). The Sonnets of Shakespeare, with Variorum Reading and Commentary. Houghton-Mifflin, Boston.
  • Baldwin, T. W. (1950). On the Literary Genetics of Shakspeare's Sonnets. University of Illinois Press, Urbana.
  • Booth, Stephen (1977). Shakespeare's Sonnets. Yale University Press, New Haven.
  • Dowden, Edward (1881). Shakespeare's Sonnets. London.
  • Hubler, Edwin (1952). The Sense of Shakespeare's Sonnets. Princeton University Press, Princeton.
  • Schoenfeldt, Michael (2007). The Sonnets: The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare’s Poetry. Patrick Cheney, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  • Tyler, Thomas (1989). Shakespeare’s Sonnets. London D. Nutt.
  • Vendler, Helen (1997). The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

External links[edit]