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I dream'd that as I wandered by the way, Bare Winter was suddenly changed to Spring,And gentle odours led my steps astray, Mix'd with a sound of waters murmuring, Along a shelving bank of turf, which lay Under a copse, and hardly dared to fling, Its gentle arms round the blossoming stream, But kiss'd it, and then fled, As Thou mightest in a dream. - Percy Byssche Shelley, Dream of the Unknown
Shelley- A Tragic Romantic. A study in Fixed Stars by Deborah Houlding

The fixed stars give great gifts, and elevate even from poverty to an extreme height of fortune... [1]

… and so we are told that great and famous people have notable fixed stars sensitively placed in their horoscopes. Such then, should be the case for Percy Bysshe Shelley, recorded in history as one of Britain's finest poets. His works are celebrated examples of classic poetry, appreciated for their rare combination of visionary passion and artistic sensitivity. In the material sense, Shelley led an extremely fortunate life - he enjoyed the benefits of wealth, fame and literary success - emotionally however, he also experienced great sorrow and heartache. Both the good and the bad can be seen in his horoscope, and particularly in a study of the fixed stars prominent at his birth.

Shelley's Story

Born in August 1792, Shelley was the eldest son of a Member of Parliament and grew up in a family with strong political ties. He was educated at Eton and then at University College, Oxford. During his late teens he developed a tendency to stand against authority and, though frail and sensitive of disposition, aired his controversial views with the utmost of confidence. His interests were wide and varied, including philosophy, astronomy, alchemy and the occult, while his independence of thought led to an intense dislike for the rigours of Christianity. In 1811 he published a provocative pamphlet, The Necessity of Atheism, for which he was expelled from University. His first major poem, Queen Mab was written in 1813, a prelude to an illustrious career that came to full bloom just four years later. Famous works include The Cloud, Ode to the West Wind, and To a Skylark.

Never particularly happy in his home life, at the age of 19 Shelley eloped with his first love, Harriet Grove, who bore him a daughter two years later. Harriet left Shelley the following year (1814) while pregnant with a son. Shortly after this he fell deeply in love with Mary Godwin, the daughter of his friend and patron, William Godwin; though William disapproved of the relationship. Unable to bear the complexity of his emotions, Shelley attempted suicide by taking an overdose of laudanum, but the attempt failed and he later left London with Mary and her sister Claire, returning in September of that year. Tragedy struck the following spring when Mary bore a son who died just two weeks later. They had another son, William, in May 1816, and daughter, Clara, in September 1817.

In 1816 Shelley met his friend and fellow poet Lord Byron in Geneva. The pair of them almost drowned in a boating accident on September 8th, an event that was emotive enough for Shelley to promptly make out his will, and was to act as a bizarre presage to the death of his first wife. Three months later she committed suicide by drowning herself in the Serpentine. Her pregnant body was recovered on Tuesday 10th December, the paternity of her child never fully established.

In 1818, Shelley, Mary, and her sister Claire (who now had a child by Lord Byron) went to stay at Byron's villa in Italy. Misfortune repeated itself when Shelley's daughter Clara died of dysentery in September of that year. They moved to Venice for the sake of their son's health but he also died nine months later after another short illness. They had a final son, Percy, born in Florence in 1819, the only child to survive.

In 1819 Shelley and Mary, Byron and Claire moved to Pisa. Once again, they suffered the death of a child when in April 1822 Byron and Claire's daughter died of typhus. Just three months later Shelley, aged 29, set sail with a friend on a boating trip that was to lead to his death. The pair were drowned, their bodies found washed up on the shore near Viareggio on August 14th 1822.

Natal Comparison

The planetary configurations in Shelley's birthchart are strikingly related to the events of his life. The Saturn / Neptune opposition across the ascendant / descendant axis is an obvious warning of difficulties and sadness, and together with the 12th house Moon in Pisces, clearly foreshadow Shelley's morbid attraction to water. Even as a child he was fascinated by it, and is reported to have spent long hours playing with model boats and sailing little notes in bottles.

Percy Bysshe Shelley, Natal Chart

The fixed stars Mesartim and Sharatan of the constellation Aries rise in the chart at 0° Taurus 17, and 1° Taurus 04 respectively. Their influence is violent and destructive (of the nature of Mars & Saturn) and their sensitive position on the ascendant enables the malefic influence of other stars to manifest as physical harm. The Saturn / Neptune opposition across the angles, describes Shelley as fragile and weak in constitution and slight of build. Ascendant ruler Venus adds to his effeminate appearance: he had long, curling hair and a "delicate almost feminine appearance".[2] Venus is placed in the terms of Mercury, which is tied closely to the ascendant and Saturn by trine: Shelley was tall, gaunt and walked with a stoop, a classic signature of Saturn on the ascendant.

Although in the house of its joy, ascendant-ruler Venus is badly afflicted: without dignity, combust of the Sun and conjunct the violent fixed star Dubhe (nature: Mars), then at 12° Leo 17. It makes an even more powerful conjunction with Acubens (nature: Saturn & Mercury) at 10° Leo 44, because this star is within 1° of latitude as well. Acubens is an unfortunate star on the southern claw of the Crab whose influence is associated with "malevolence and poison". [3] Besides his own suicide attempt involving the use of poison, the death of at least two of his children was, in effect, the result of poisons entering their bodies.

A tendency to suffer misfortune through his children is indicated by the affliction of the 5th house ruler, the Moon - weak, peregrine and void of course in the 12th house; his children (and love affairs) become the source of sorrow and private grief. That he was able to convey the depth of his emotions through artistic expression was probably of small recompense to Shelley the man, but became the major accomplishment of Shelley the poet. Public acclaim and professional achievement are marked by the position of the 10th-house ruler - Saturn - on the ascendant. Saturn on the trine of Mercury, ruler of his third house, shows an easy ability to find success through writing and communicating ideas. Otherwise Saturn is not especially dignified, and for one so young would seem hardly capable of denoting the level of lasting fame that Shelley aspired to, were it not for the influence of several beneficial fixed stars on his Midheaven. Ascella (nature: Mercury & Jupiter), then at 10° Capricorn 38, was close by longitude and latitude, promising good fortune and success in literary pursuits. The benefic Mercury/Venus star Vega, from the artistic constellation Lyra, was closely conjunct his Midheaven at 12° Capricorn 25, bringing refinement, hope and idealism into his work. The closest star by longitude and latitude was Manubrium from the constellation Sagittarius, at 1 2° Capricorn 06. Its influence combines the nature of the Sun and Mars, giving a dynamic flair to Shelley's writing that made it compelling and controversial at the same time. Several of his best works are satirical and critical in stance and, true to his Sun / Uranus conjunction, he was never prepared to bow to convention. The 5th house ruler, Moon, sextile the MC shows that poetry was the ideal choice for personal fame and success.

The manner of death - drowning - is illustrated by many factors in the chart. Principally we would expect this to be shown by the 8th-ruler, Jupiter, and certainly it is dangerously placed, conjunct the descendant and besieged by Mars and Neptune. Neptune is especially ominous because of its inconjunct aspect with the malefic South Node in the 12th house, particularly since this falls exactly on the fixed star Scheat at 26° Pisces 30. Scheat is one of the most notorious stars in the heavens, reputed to cause "extreme misfortune, murder, suicide and drowning". [4] Shelley died during his Saturn return whilst progressed Venus drew to an opposition of the North Node / Scheat conjunction, with a New Moon at 26° Cancer emphasising its power. His earlier brush with death, when he almost died with Byron, occurred with transiting Venus and Mars opposite Scheat, at 26° Virgo 48 and 25° Virgo 42 respectively. His own suicide attempt took place with Venus in square, at 27° Gemini 01, and Saturn retrograding to a sextile of Scheat at 26° Capricorn 56.

His first wife's suicide occurred under another Jupiter-Mars conjunction (repeating the pattern in his nativity) which formed a tight trine to Scheat at 26° Virgo 59 and 28° Scorpio 57 respectively.

Two other stars are also important in portraying the manner of his death: Rastaban (nature: Saturn & Mars), conjunct the 8th cusp, is a malefic star connected with violence, accidents and poison; and Canopus (nature: Saturn & Jupiter), denoting significant events at sea, is appropriately placed on Shelley's 4th house of 'grave'.

Viewing the chart as a whole, there can be little doubt that the message of the stars in this nativity clearly reflect both the professional success and the unfortunate circumstances of Shelley's personal life.

Notes & References:
  1 ] William Lilly, Christian Astrology, 1647; p.621
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  2 ] Lesley Russell, Brief Biographies for Astrological Study, Arts 1; p.60
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  3 ] Vivian Robson, Fixed Stars and Constellations in Astrology; p.116
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  4 ] Ibid. p.206
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© Deborah Houlding

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