Happy Valentine’s Day From Percy Bysshe Shelley!!
Here at The Real Percy Bysshe Shelley I spend a lot of time focusing on Shelley’s political and philosophical writings. Around here I can sometimes forget that PB was one of the greatest of all love poets. And so this being Valentine’s Day it seems only right and proper that I should unleash the majesty of his (small “r”) romantic poems. To add some fun to the proceedings I decided to introduce an astrological element. A famous skeptic and a man who was disdainful of superstition, Shelley would probably be appalled by what I am up to here. But then again, contrary to the common misconception, Shelley had a great sense of humour - so maybe he would love this. Let’s hope so. But in any event, it is Valentine’s Day and the spirits of Eros and Cupid are in charge, so I am going to jump in with both feet.
I wanted to try to match some of his most beautiful poems with the twelve astrological signs. Do you want to know which love poem rules your sign? Which poem speaks to the heart of your loved one? Well look no further. I order to make this all happen, I needed to speak to astrological experts. Knowing none, I was left in a quandary. It then occurred to me that my great Aunts Hilda and Isabel Pagan (yes, that is their name) were both astrologers of the first order. In fact they cast a horoscope for me (see image) at the hour of my birth - a horoscope so uncannily accurate that my mother kept it hidden from me until I was in my twenties!. One problem - they are both dead.
Where there is a will there is a way. Thanks to the magic of the ouija board, I was able to communicate with them. It took a little time (letter by letter!) but i am now pleased to present a selection of Shelley’s love poetry matched to each of the 12 astrological signs. No one in the history of the world has ever performed this astounding feat of astro-poetical genius. Let’s dig in.
Aries: March 21 – April 19
Aries. You are from the first House, the House of Self. This can make it challenging to choose a partner but where love is concerned, under the fire sign and the ruling celestial body of Mars, choosing yourself might be the right idea!
I dreamed that, as I wandered by the way,
Bare Winter suddenly was changed to Spring,
And gentle odours led my steps astray,
Mixed with a sound of waters murmuring
Along a shelving bank of turf, which lay
Under a copse, and hardly dared to fling
Its green arms round the bosom of the stream,
But kissed it and then fled, as thou mightest in dream.
There grew pied wind-flowers and violets,
Daisies, those pearled Arcturi of the earth,
The constellated flower that never sets;
Faint oxlips; tender bluebells, at whose birth
The sod scarce heaved; and that tall flower that wets —
Like a child, half in tenderness and mirth —
Its mother's face with Heaven's collected tears,
When the low wind, its playmate's voice, it hears.
And in the warm hedge grew lush eglantine,
Green cowbind and the moonlight-coloured may,
And cherry-blossoms, and white cups, whose wine
Was the bright dew, yet drained not by the day;
And wild roses, and ivy serpentine,
With its dark buds and leaves, wandering astray;
And flowers azure, black, and streaked with gold,
Fairer than any wakened eyes behold.
And nearer to the river's trembling edge
There grew broad flag-flowers, purple pranked with white,
And starry river buds among the sedge,
And floating water-lilies, broad and bright,
Which lit the oak that overhung the hedge
With moonlight beams of their own watery light;
And bulrushes, and reeds of such deep green
As soothed the dazzled eye with sober sheen.
Methought that of these visionary flowers
I made a nosegay, bound in such a way
That the same hues, which in their natural bowers
Were mingled or opposed, the like array
Kept these imprisoned children of the Hours
Within my hand,— and then, elate and gay,
I hastened to the spot whence I had come,
That I might there present it! — Oh! to whom?
— Written in 1820, this poem was published by Leigh Hunt in The Literary Pocket-Book in 1822.
Taurus: April 20 – May 20
Ruled by Venus but under a terrestrial sign, your earthly concern on Valentine’s Day is sharing a night with your honey. Shelley has you covered. Curl up with this beauty...and indulge in breakfast in bed in the morning no matter who cooks!
Good-night? ah! no; the hour is ill
Which severs those it should unite;
Let us remain together still,
Then it will be good night.
How can I call the lone night good,
Though thy sweet wishes wing its flight?
Be it not said, thought, understood —
Then it will be — good night.
To hearts which near each other move
From evening close to morning light,
The night is good; because, my love,
They never say good-night.
— Written in 1820, this poem was published by Leigh Hunt in The Literary Pocket-Book in 1822.
Gemini: May 21 – June 20
You are a thinker, Gemini. Your twin soul weighs past and future equally. Shelley’s thoughtful poem The Recollection captures your understanding of the balance of past and future. Is there someone you should reach out to and send a little note that you’re thinking of them?
To Jane: The Recollection
Now the last day of many days,
All beautiful and bright as thou,
The loveliest and the last, is dead,
Rise, Memory, and write its praise!
Up, — to thy wonted work! come, trace
The epitaph of glory fled, —
For now the Earth has changed its face,
A frown is on the Heaven’s brow.
We wandered to the Pine Forest
That skirts the Ocean’s foam,
The lightest wind was in its nest,
The tempest in its home.
The whispering waves were half asleep,
The clouds were gone to play,
And on the bosom of the deep
The smile of Heaven lay;
It seemed as if the hour were one
Sent from beyond the skies,
Which scattered from above the sun
A light of Paradise.
We paused amid the pines that stood
The giants of the waste,
Tortured by storms to shapes as rude
As serpents interlaced;
And soothed by every azure breath,
That under Heaven is blown,
To harmonies and hues beneath,
As tender as its own;
Now all the tree-tops lay asleep,
Like green waves on the sea,
As still as in the silent deep
The ocean woods may be.
How calm it was! — the silence there
By such a chain was bound
That even the busy woodpecker
Made stiller by her sound
The inviolable quietness;
The breath of peace we drew
With its soft motion made not less
The calm that round us grew.
There seemed from the remotest seat
Of the white mountain waste,
To the soft flower beneath our feet,
A magic circle traced, —
A spirit interfused around,
A thrilling, silent life,
To momentary peace it bound
Our mortal nature’s strife;
And still I felt the centre of
The magic circle there
Was one fair form that filled with love
The lifeless atmosphere.
We paused beside the pools that lie
Under the forest bough,—
Each seemed as ’twere a little sky
Gulfed in a world below;
A firmament of purple light
Which in the dark earth lay,
More boundless than the depth of night,
And purer than the day —
In which the lovely forests grew,
As in the upper air,
More perfect both in shape and hue
Than any spreading there.
There lay the glade and neighbouring lawn,
And through the dark green wood
The white sun twinkling like the dawn
Out of a speckled cloud.
Sweet views which in our world above
Can never well be seen,
Were imaged by the water’s love
Of that fair forest green.
And all was interfused beneath
With an Elysian glow,
An atmosphere without a breath,
A softer day below.
Like one beloved the scene had lent
To the dark water’s breast,
Its every leaf and lineament
With more than truth expressed;
Until an envious wind crept by,
Like an unwelcome thought,
Which from the mind’s too faithful eye
Blots one dear image out.
Though thou art ever fair and kind,
The forests ever green,
Less oft is peace in Shelley’s mind,
Than calm in waters, seen.
— Written in 1821 and published in this form by Mary Shelley in The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1839, 2nd edition.
Cancer: June 21 – July 22
Guided by the moon and water you respond to the romance of the night and your environment. Delight in the mood and the atmosphere on Valentine’s Day with this literary treat. Good lighting, relaxing music and a great glass of wine can do wonders.
To Jane: “The Keen Stars Were Twinkling”
The keen stars were twinkling,
And the fair moon was rising among them,
The guitar was tinkling,
But the notes were not sweet till you sung them
As the moon's soft splendour
O'er the faint cold starlight of Heaven
So your voice most tender
To the strings without soul had then given
The stars will awaken,
Though the moon sleep a full hour later,
No leaf will be shaken
Whilst the dews of your melody scatter
Though the sound overpowers,
Sing again, with your dear voice revealing
Of some world far from ours,
Where music and moonlight and feeling
Written in 1822, the poem was published in part under the title An Ariette for Music. To a Lady Singing to her Accompaniment on the Guitar by Shelley’s cousin Thomas Medwin in 1832. Mary later published in full under the title To — in The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley , 2nd Edition. We now know the poem was written to Jane Williams.
Leo: July 23 – August 22
Sun driven Leo! Headstrong lion from the House of Pleasure, whisk your Valentine away for an unforgettable trip….even if you are your own Valentine. Life’s joys are many. Pamper yourself and try to set a record for favourite things done today. This is Shelley’s sign - he was born 4 August 1792!!
To Jane: The Invitation
Best and brightest, come away!
Fairer far than this fair Day,
Which, like thee to those in sorrow,
Comes to bid a sweet good-morrow
To the rough Year just awake
In its cradle on the brake.
The brightest hour of unborn Spring,
Through the winter wandering,
Found, it seems, the halcyon Morn
To hoar February born.
Bending from Heaven, in azure mirth,
It kiss'd the forehead of the Earth,
And smiled upon the silent sea,
And bade the frozen streams be free,
And waked to music all their fountains,
And breathed upon the frozen mountains,
And like a prophetess of May
Strewed flowers upon the barren way,
Making the wintry world appear
Like one on whom thou smilest, dear.
Away away from men and towns,
To the wild woods and the downs —
To the silent wilderness
Where the soul need not repress
Its music lest it should not find
An echo in another's mind ,
While the touch of Nature's art
Harmonizes heart to heart.
I leave this notice on my door
For each accustomed visitor: —
“I am gone into the field
To take what this sweet hour yields; —
Reflection, you may come tom-morrow,
Sit by the fireside with Sorrow, —
You with the unpaid bill, Despair, —
You tireseome verse-reciter, Care, —
I will pay you in the grave, —
Death will listen to your stave.
Expectation too, be off!
To-day is for itself enough;
Hope, in pity mock not Woe
With smiles, nor follow where I go;
Long having lived on thy food,
At length I find one moment’s good
After long pain — with all your love,
This you never told me of.”
Radiant Sister of the Day
Awake! arise! and come away!
To the wild woods and the plains,
To the pools where winter rains
Image all their roof of leaves,
Where the pine its garland weaves
Of sapless green and ivy dun
Round stems that never kiss the sun;
Where the lawns and pastures be
And the sandhills of the sea; —
Where the melting hoar-frost wets
The daisy-star that never sets,
And wind-flowers and violets,
Which yet join not scent to hue,
Crown the pale year weak and new;
When the night is left behind
In the deep east dim and blind,
And the blue noon is over us ,
And the multitudinous
Billows murmur at our feet,
Where the earth and ocean meet
And all things seem only one
In the universal Sun.
— Written in 1821 and published in this form by Mary Shelley in The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1839, 2nd edition.
Virgo: August 23 – September 22
Virgos analyze. Analyze this gem inspired by Shakespeare. Are you in a relationship? Could there be someone nearby who also loves you? You are valued and cherished, thoughtful Virgo! Word to the wise - if someone gives you a guitar, they probably have a crush on you! This is Mary’s sign - she was born 30 August 1797!!
With a Guitar, To Jane - an Excerpt
Ariel to Miranda: — Take
This slave of Music, for the sake
Of him who is the slave of thee,
And teach it all the harmony
In which thou canst, and only thou,
Make the delighted spirit glow,
Till joy denies itself again,
And, too intense, is turn'd to pain;
For by permission and command
Of thine own Prince Ferdinand,
Poor Ariel sends this silent token
Of more than ever can be spoken;
Your guardian spirit Ariel, who,
From life to life, must still pursue
Your happiness; — for thus alone
Can Ariel ever find his own.
From Prospero's enchanted cell,
As the mighty verses tell,
To the throne of Naples, he
Lit you o'er the trackless sea,
Flitting on, your prow before,
Like a living meteor.
When you die, the silent Moon
In her interlunar swoon,
Is not sadder in her cell
Than deserted Ariel.
When you live again on earth,
Like an unseen star of birth,
Ariel guides you o'er the sea
Of life from your nativity.
Many changes have been run
Since Ferdinand and you begun
Your course of love, and Ariel still
Has track'd your steps, and served your will;
Now, in humbler, happier lot,
This is all remembered not;
And now alas! the poor sprite is
Imprisoned for some fault of his,
In a body like a grave; —
From you he only dares to crave,
For his service and his sorrow
A smile to-day, a song to-morrow.
The artist who this idol wrought,
To echo all harmonious thought,
Felled a tree while on the steep
The woods were in their winter sleep,
Rocked in that repose divine
On the wind-swept Apennine;
And dreaming some of Autumn past,
And some of Spring approaching fast,
And some of April buds and showers,
And some of songs in July bowers,
And all of love; and so this tree, —
Oh that such our death may be! —
Died in sleep and felt no pain ,
To live in happier form again;
From which beneath Heaven's fairest star,
The artist wrought this loved Guitar;
And taught it justly to reply,
To all who question skilfully,
In language gentle as thine own;
Whispering in enamour'd tone
Sweet oracles of woods and dells,
And summer winds in sylvan cells;
For it had learnt all harmonies
Of the plains and of the skies ,
Of the forests and the mountains
And the many-voicèd fountains;
The clearest echoes of the hills,
The softest notes of falling rills,
The melodies of birds and bees,
The murmuring of summer seas,
And pattering rain, and breathing dew,
And airs of evening; and it knew
That seldom-heard mysterious sound,
Which driven on its diurnal round ,
As it floats through boundless day,
Our world enkindles on its way, —
All this it knows but will not tell
To those who cannot question well
The spirit that inhabits it;
It talks according to the wit
Of its companions; and no more
Is heard than has been felt before,
By those who tempt it to betray
These secrets of an elder day:
But sweetly as its answers will
Flatter hands of perfect skill,
It keeps its highest, holiest tone
For one belovèd Jane alone.
— Written in 1822, this poem was published by Medwin in The Athenæum on 30 October 1832.
Libra: September 23 – October 22
Symmetry and balance are in the air for you, Libra. One of Shelley’s greatest poems gives you all of that and more. You juggle thinking and feeling all day long. Perhaps succumb to feeling every now and then. Especially for a romantic special occasion such as this.
The fountains mingle with the river
And the rivers with the Ocean,
The winds of Heaven mix for ever
With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single;
All things by a law divine
In one spirit meet and mingle.
Why not I with thine? —
See the mountains kiss high Heaven
And the waves clasp one another;
No sister-flower would be forgiven
If it disdained its brother;
And the sunlight clasps the earth
And the moonbeams kiss the sea:
What is all this sweet work worth
If thou kiss not me?
— Written in 1819, the poem was first published by Leigh Hunt inThe Indicator on 22 December 1819.
Scorpio: October 23 – November 21
Sensuous and dreamlike, yet physical and organic, your keyword is desire, Scorpio. Desire with a capital D. Drama also starts with a D... You know your power but your love might not understand the full scope of it. Focus your energy on treating your Valentine and try not to slip into the second D word.
The Indian Serenade
I arise from dreams of thee
In the first sweet sleep of night.
When the winds are breathing low,
And the stars are shining bright:
I arise from dreams of thee,
And a spirit in my feet
Has led me — who knows how?
To thy chamber-window, Sweet!
The wandering airs they faint
On the dark, the silent stream —
The Champak odours fail
Like sweet thoughts in a dream;
The nightingale's complaint,
It dies upon her heart; —
As I must die on thine,
Oh, belovèd as thou art!
O, lift me from the grass!
I die, I faint, I fall!
Let thy love in kisses rain
On my lips and eyelids pale.
My cheek is cold, and white, alas!
My heart beats loud and fast; —
Oh! press it close to thine own again,
Where it will break at last.
— Written in 1819 this poem was published with the title Song written for an Indian Air, in The Liberal, volume 2, 1822.
Sagittarius: November 22 – December 21
You are a traveler, Sagittarius. You understand the need for new surroundings and what fleeting experiences do to impact your ideas of time and memory. Love is like that as well and sometimes sharp inclines of joy and declines of sorrow only reinforce the immediacy of life and the beauty of each moment. Cherish this moment.
We are as clouds that veil the midnight moon;
How restlessly they speed, and gleam, and quiver,
Streaking the darkness radiantly! — yet soon
Night closes round, and they are lost for ever:
Or like forgotten lyres, whose dissonant strings
Give various response to each varying blast,
To whose frail frame no second motion brings
One mood or modulation like the last.
We rest. — A dream has power to poison sleep;
We rise. — One wandering thought pollutes the day;
We feel, conceive or reason, laugh or weep;
Embrace fond woe, or cast our cares away:
It is the same! — For, be it joy or sorrow,
The path of its departure still is free:
Man's yesterday may ne'er be like his morrow;
Nought may endure but Mutabililty.
— Written in 1816, the poem was published with Alastor in the same year.
Capricorn: December 22 – January 19
You have sense, Capricorn. You have roots in wisdom and earth. You certainly have the wherewithal and savvy to convince a crush to give you a chance or the judgement to choose a suitable suitor/suitress. Maybe this could be an opportunity to use your wisdom and savvy for mutual gratification!
Epipsychidion — an excerpt
Thy wisdom speaks in me, and bids me dare
Beacon the rocks on which high hearts are wrecked.
I never was attached to that great sect,
Whose doctrine is, that each one should select
Out of the crowd a mistress or a friend,
And all the rest, though fair and wise, commend
To cold oblivion, though it is in the code
Of modern morals, and the beaten road
Which those poor slaves with weary footsteps tread,
Who travel to their home among the dead
By the broad highway of the world, and so
With one chained friend, perhaps a jealous foe,
The dreariest and the longest journey go.
True Love in this differs from gold and clay,
That to divide is not to take away.
Love is like understanding, that grows bright,
Gazing on many truths; ’tis like thy light,
Imagination! which from earth and sky,
And from the depths of human phantasy,
As from a thousand prisms and mirrors, fills
The Universe with glorious beams, and kills
Error, the worm, with many a sun-like arrow
Of its reverberated lightning. Narrow
The heart that loves, the brain that contemplates,
The life that wears, the spirit that creates
One object, and one form, and builds thereby
A sepulchre for its eternity.
— This excerpt (lines 147 - 173) is from Epipsychidion which was was written in 1821 and published (without Shelley’s name) in the summer of 1822.
Aquarius: January 20 – February 18
Cup bearer! Aquarius, you understand water, air and friendship. You are willing to ride along on the tide of another’s passion because you feel you just know. This is a beautiful trait. If you are with someone right now, give them the tiller on your love boat. If you are not, perhaps now is the time to try something you are unsure of because it could be something magical. Who knows?
My Soul is an Enchanted Boat - an excerpt from Prometheus Unbound
My soul is an enchanted boat,
Which, like a sleeping swan, doth float
Upon the silver waves of thy sweet singing;
And thine doth like an angel sit
Beside a helm conducting it,
Whilst all the winds with melody are ringing.
It seems to float ever, for ever,
Upon that many-winding river,
Between mountains, woods, abysses,
A paradise of wildernesses!
Till, like one in slumber bound,
Borne to the ocean, I float down, around,
Into a sea profound, of ever-spreading sound:
Meanwhile thy spirit lifts its pinions
In music's most serene dominions;
Catching the winds that fan that happy heaven.
And we sail on, away, afar,
Without a course, without a star,
But, by the instinct of sweet music driven;
Till through Elysian garden islets
By thee, most beautiful of pilots,
Where never mortal pinnace glided,
The boat of my desire is guided:
Realms where the air we breathe is love,
Which in the winds and on the waves doth move,
Harmonizing this earth with what we feel above.
We have past Age's icy caves,
And Manhood's dark and tossing waves,
And Youth's smooth ocean, smiling to betray:
Beyond the glassy gulfs we flee
Of shadow-peopled Infancy,
Through Death and Birth, to a diviner day;
A paradise of vaulted bowers,
Lit by downward-gazing flowers,
And watery paths that wind between
Wildernesses calm and green,
Peopled by shapes too bright to see,
And rest, having beheld; somewhat like thee;
Which walk upon the sea, and chant melodiously!
— Prometheus Unbound was written in Italy over a period of about year beginning in September 1819. Shelley published it in the summer of 1820.
Pisces: February 19 – March 20
You are a ship at sea. The water sign guides your sensibilities but inspired by the ichthyocentaurs you are flexible and will venture boldly into the lands of air, fire, earth as well as water. You have an exceptional talent for versatility. Show your Valentine your many strengths this February 14th (and really, any day).
Epipsychidion — an excerpt
This isle and house are mine, and I have vowed
Thee to be lady of the solitude. —
And I have fitted up some chambers there
Looking toward the golden Eastern air,
And level with the living winds, which flow
Like waves above the living waves below. —
I have sent books and music there, and all
Those instruments with which high Spirits call
The future from its cradle, and the past
Out of its grave, and make the present last
In thoughts and joys which sleep, but cannot die,
Folded within their own eternity.
Our simple life wants little, and true taste
Hires not the pale drudge Luxury, to waste
The scene it would adorn, and therefore still,
Nature, with all her children, haunts the hill.
The ring-dove, in the embowering ivy, yet
Keeps up her love-lament, and the owls flit
Round the evening tower, and the young stars glance
Between the quick bats in their twilight dance;
The spotted deer bask in the fresh moonlight
Before our gate, and the slow, silent night
Is measured by the pants of their calm sleep.
Be this our home in life, and when years heap
Their withered hours, like leaves, on our decay,
Let us become the overhanging day,
The living soul of this Elysian isle,
Conscious, inseparable, one. Meanwhile
We two will rise, and sit, and walk together,
Under the roof of blue Ionian weather,
And wander in the meadows, or ascend
The mossy mountains, where the blue heavens bend
With lightest winds, to touch their paramour;
Or linger, where the pebble-paven shore,
Under the quick, faint kisses of the sea,
Trembles and sparkles as with ecstasy, —
Possessing and possessed by all that is
Within that calm circumference of bliss,
And by each other, till to love and live
Be one: — or, at the noontide hour, arrive
Where some old cavern hoar seems yet to keep
The moonlight of the expired night asleep,
Through which the awaken'd day can never peep;
A veil for our seclusion, close as night's,
Where secure sleep may kill thine innocent lights;
Sleep, the fresh dew of languid love, the rain
Whose drops quench kisses till they burn again.
And we will talk, until thought's melody
Become too sweet for utterance, and it die
In words, to live again in looks, which dart
With thrilling tone into the voiceless heart,
Harmonizing silence without a sound.
Our breath shall intermix, our bosoms bound,
And our veins beat together; and our lips
With other eloquence than words, eclipse
The soul that burns between them, and the wells
Which boil under our being's inmost cells,
The fountains of our deepest life, shall be
Confused in Passion's golden purity,
As mountain-springs under the morning sun.
We shall become the same, we shall be one
Spirit within two frames, oh! wherefore two?
One passion in twin-hearts, which grows and grew,
Till like two meteors of expanding flame,
Those spheres instinct with it become the same,
Touch, mingle, are transfigured; ever still
Burning, yet ever inconsumable:
In one another's substance finding food,
Like flames too pure and light and unimbued
To nourish their bright lives with baser prey,
Which point to Heaven and cannot pass away:
One hope within two wills, one will beneath
Two overshadowing minds, one life, one death,
One Heaven, one Hell, one immortality,
And one annihilation….
— This excerpt (lines 513 - 587) is from Epipsychidion which was was written in 1821 and published (without Shelley’s name) in the summer of 1822.
All poems are taken from The Complete Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley edited by Thomas Hutchinson and published in 1948. If you see an mistake, please let me know!