Note: Readers of "astrological profiles" know that the use of astrological terms is laid on pretty thick but with tongue in cheek, firmly so, on the nervy assumption that the horoscope -- like the "haruspicate or scry," "sortilege, or tea leaves," playing cards, pentagrams, handwriting analysis, palm-reading, and the "preconscious terrors" of the dreaming mind in T. S. Eliot's "The Dry Salvages" -- may be a bust at prediction bur may turn out to be not only "usual pastimes and drugs" but the means of poetic exploration.
Shelley was a classic Leo with Taurus rising. Born on this day (4 August) in 1792, he was the middle man in the greatest double-play combination of all time, Keats to Shelley to Byron. He had the vision of a prophet and the confidence of a madman and he was idealistic, with Saturn, Neptune, and Venus dominant among his planets and Libra, Leo, and Taurus among his signs. He shares his birthday with Barack Obama and Louis Armstrong, which gives you some idea of how he presaged the future of music, that art to which all others aspire, and the illusion of political change based on hopes that spring eternal in the human breast..
The symmetry in his natal chart is fearless. He is a man of heroic temper -- without Byron's lusty humor or Keats's morbid sensuality but with a power of breath equal to the wind. He died, fittingly, in a squall, at sea. The fire and earth in his chart were vanquished by the elements of water and air. His moon was in Pisces, his Venus in Leo.
Shelley made love to women sincerely, with attentive care, and wrote poems to her, whatever her name was, Jane or Mary or the third one. He didn't "hold" with monogamy. He went to University College in Oxford and got sent down for writing "The Necessity of Atheism." He was a strong swimmer, though this ability availed him naught in the end. His heterodox views made Shelley the hero of wannabe poets for a century after his death. To get a flavor of that old romantic aura, read Andrte Maurois's wonderful bio, "Ariel." Alas, Shelley's literary reputation took a hit from Arnold, an even more wounding thrust from Eliolt, and then came the backlash in full intensity.
Everyone at the campfire had to tell a spooky story. Byron and Shelley had good ones, but Mary Shelley won with "Frankenstein." They were in Switzerland. Who was Jane? He serenaded her with a guitar.The lyrics were lovely. She kept his picture in a locket along with a lock of his hair, and everything that he touched acquired posthumous value. Henry James's "The Aspern Papers" centers on the archive of a poet modeled after Shelley and what a single-minded professor will do to get at it. History has been kinder to Keats's reputation than to Shelley's, but it used to be that if you mentioned one you had to mention the other or you would have bad luck all day, the same as with James and Edith Wharton.
If Dante had been reborn as an Englishman, it would have been in the person of Shelley, who venerated Rousseau. Plato's parable of the cave could have been dreamed with Shelley in mind. He was probably the most complicated of the major romantic poets. Coleridge was his superior intellectually; Keats, always better loved, was Milton's true heir, able to pack as much sensual pleasure in a line of verse as pentameter allowed; Blake was crazier; Byron funnier; and Wordsworth captured, all in all, the spirit of the age more successfully than any of his contemporaries. But Shelley was the closest thing to a visionary in the lot.
When Stephen Dedalus in James Joyce's "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" sees a woman on the beach and composes a villanelle about her image, it is in the manner of Shelley. For a great poet Shelley wrote some really bad lines, in which he stumbles and falls and bleeds in his efforts to shed his corporeal self and merge his romantic soul with the wind that is the creative breath of God. His skylark sings to us less melodiously than Keats's nightingale, but that's paradox for you -- that Shelley, who was given to seeing things in retrospect, would oddly favor the bird of early morn.
On July 8, 1822, Shelley and his friend Edward Williams went out boating in Italy and drowned. They were going to burn the bodies, but Shelley's heart defied the flames, refused to burn, and was rescued by Edward Trelawny. Byron said that his much misunderstood friend was the greatest man he had ever known. -- DL