Poem of the Day: ‘Love’s Philosophy’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley

‘Love’s Philosophy’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley5115-percy-shelley

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 are all these kissings worth
   If thou kiss not me?

 Percy Bysshe Shelley was born in 1792 and was a major poet during the Romantic movement. He was involved in a key circle of major poets at the time, including Lord Byron and his second wife, Mary Shelley. Unlike Byron, however, Shelley didn’t achieve fame during his lifetime, his poetry only becoming more widely recognised in the late 19th/early 20th century.

Shelley himself was not only know for radicalism within his poetry, but in his political views as well – for example, Mary and himself were great advocates of social justice, reform for the lower classes and indeed vegetarianism, all of which can be seen in ‘Queen Mab’ (maybe the vegetarianism less so per se).

Radicalism aside, ‘Love’s Philosophy’ is the embodiment of Romanticism. I especially enjoy this poem in the way it reads from line to line, the regular lulling rhythm in conjunction with the beautiful natural imagery creating a gentle and peaceful tone, particularly with such soft-sounding verbs like ‘clasps’, ‘kiss’ and ‘mingle’ repeated throughout. In particular, the last four lines stand out for me for several reasons. Drawing on his classical education, Shelley uses the last two natural images to symbolise masculinity ‘sunlight’ and femininity ‘moonbeams’ highlighting the unison brought about with a kiss. However, the playfulness of love is also apparent in the last two lines where Shelley cheekily asks ‘What are all these kissings worth/ if thou not kiss me?’ bringing the poet’s own voice back into the poem after such grandiose images of the ‘earth’ and the ‘heavens’.

A simple yet beautiful poem, ‘Love’s Philosophy’ I think truly does capture the philosophy behind love – it is not only a divine, majestic concept in the abstract, it is also about a sincere emotion between two people, with a little bit of playfulness thrown in for good measure.

Oh, and if you were wondering, Bysshe is pronounced like ‘fish’, apparently.

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