I am wondering how "More by your numbers than your light" relate to "That poorly satisfy our eyes" or "You common people of the skies". I am trying to understand this excerpt as a non-native and I am having trouble, because it would make more sense to say "You satisfy our eyes more by your number than your light", but the poorly act as a negation, so I find it perplexing a bit. Is it because it's not entirely a negative? And "You common people of the skies" seems to be a sentence on its own.

Excerpt from Sir Henry Wotton's “Elizabeth of Bohemia”:

You meaner beauties of the night,

That poorly satisfy our eyes

More by your number than your light,

You common people of the skies;

What are you when the moon shall rise?

2 Answers 2


I think he is comparing the more mediocre stars with the super-bright ones.

I'm pretty sure "meaner" is used in its meaning of "more average". So the stars he is addressing are the average, numerous ones.

"That poorly satisfy our eyes, more by your number than your light," doesn't seem paradoxical at all to me. They are sort of dim, so they don't "satisfy our eyes" very well. And what they do have going for them is more quantity that quality. As judgmental as that sounds, it does make a certain kind of logical sense, doesn't it?

He metaphorically compares those fainter stars to the common people (not like the brightest stars which would be the "celebrities" of the sky).

When the moon rises, you can't see the dim stars at all. Perhaps that is some kind of metaphor too, but if so, he loses me at that point.


This is verse with a set metre - iambic tetrameter, if I've got the scansion right. That affects the choice of words and word order a lot. Your version loses two syllables, so doesn't fit the metre. You have to take that into account.

Poetry is also about the slow reveal, sometimes. The poet is describing the stars, and says they satisfy our eyes poorly - and then what about them does satisfy the eyes. The stars are "meaner beauties of the night", compared to more magnificent things - such as the moon.

Another important factor in the phrasing here is the rhyming pattern, ABABB. If the order were changed, it wouldn't fit the rhyme pattern.

Poetry is about so much more than conveying information, it's about how you convey it, how you use metre and rhyme to catch people's imaginations, and how you can create a misleading impression of where things are going, following something with something else that changes its meaning. You can't try and understand it in the same way you would some purely functional prose.

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