Lord George Gordon Byron, famously described as ‘mad, bad, and dangerous to know,’ authored a series of poems, such as ‘She Walks in Beauty,’ throughout his incredibly adventurous life. The bad boy of the Romantic literary movement, Byron was exiled from England mainly due to rumors about his escapades, one of which dogged him until the end of his days – the fact that he had an affair with his half-sister, Augusta Leigh, and fathered a child. After that, Byron left England and traveled to Italy and the Far East. He is best known for the long narrative poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and Don Juan, which scholars believe was partly based on his life.
‘She Walks in Beauty’ is one of his shorter but best-known poems and has been set to music by Isaac Nathan as part of the Hebrew Melodies set. The poem is a wonderful example of Romanticism. Readers may also be interested in pursuing the works of William Wordsworth, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and John Keats as other examples of the Romantic movement in English literature.
She Walks in Beauty Lord ByronShe walks in beauty, like the nightOf cloudless climes and starry skies;And all that’s best of dark and brightMeet in her aspect and her eyes;Thus mellowed to that tender lightWhich heaven to gaudy day denies.One shade the more, one ray the less,Had half impaired the nameless graceWhich waves in every raven tress,Or softly lightens o’er her face;Where thoughts serenely sweet express,How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,The smiles that win, the tints that glow,But tell of days in goodness spent,A mind at peace with all below,A heart whose love is innocent!
Explore She Walks in Beauty
Scholars believe that ‘She Walks in Beauty‘ by Lord Byron was written when the poet met his cousin, Mrs. Anne Beatrix Wilmont.
The speaker spends the lines celebrating the beauty of one woman. He compares her beauty to night rather than day. The latter is suggested to be “gaudy,” and the “lady” certainly isn’t. The speaker describes different aspects of the woman, like her hair and skin. She is the image of peaceful beauty. The woman is unaware of the impact that she’s had on the speaker, who is also the poet, by the end of ‘She Walks in Beauty.’ The speaker is interested in the woman’s inner beauty as well as her outer beauty or physical beauty.
Throughout this piece, Byron engages with themes of beauty and purity. When seeing his cousin, he’s struck by both elements of her physical presence. She has a pure beauty that he feels is unmatched by any he’s seen in the back. He’s taken by what she looks like as well as her inner beauty. Byron certainly idealizes his vision of his cousin but, it’s this perfect image that makes the poem so widespread and long-lasting. Many readers find themselves connecting to what he has to say or dreaming about experiencing the same feelings for themselves.
Structure and Form
‘She Walks in Beauty’ by Lord Byron is a three-stanza poem, each stanza of which contains six lines. This is the poetic form that is mostly used for hymns and thus associated both with simplicity and with chasteness. In fact, the poem itself, although a type of love poem, does not really refer to passionate or sexual love. The poem follows a rhyme scheme of ABABAB.
The poem’s meter is also written in iambic tetrameter. This means that the lines contain four sets of two beats, the first of which is an unstressed syllable and the second of which is a stressed syllable. These two syllables together make one iamb.
The speaker’s awe at the woman’s beauty comes across as just that: the awe that one would feel for a lovely painting or a picture of nature. It is an especially unusual choice coming from Byron, given that he was mostly known for his lascivious affairs.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “Which waves” in stanza two and “serenely sweet” later on in that same stanza. The latter is also an example of sibilance.
- Juxtaposition: a contrast between two opposites. For example, “all that is best of dark and bright.”
- Enjambment: can be seen when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two of the first stanza as well as lines five and six of that same stanza.
- Imagery: occurs when the poet uses particularly interesting descriptions that trigger the reader’s senses. Fore example, “Which waves in every raven tress, / Or softly lightens o’er her face;”
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
The speaker opens the poem with perhaps the two most famous lines that Byron has ever written: She walks in beauty like the night / of cloudless climes and starry skies; / And all that’s best of dark and bright; / Meet in her aspect and her eyes. Right from the start, Byron sets the tone of the poem with a comparison that seems almost divine – beauty like the vast, starry night. Her beauty does not seem purely physical, either; instead, it is almost an aura, a shield of beauty, unaware and almost innocent in its unawareness.
It is interesting to note that the poet compares his beloved’s beauty to night rather than daylight – in fact, the day is considered gaudy, on behalf of the poet – because the tradition for Romantic poetry was to compare one to nature, but to bright nature. The darkness of the word ‘night’ seems to be a reference to the Greek ideal, the beauty that is so strong that it could be almost catastrophic. Helen of Troy was one such beauty; this woman seems to be another, a divine being whose sole purpose in the poem is a shift of chiaroscuro balance.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.~
The poet goes on in the second stanza to compare and contrast different aspects of beauty: her dark hair and her white face, which the light hits, seem to recall images of the Virgin Mary. It is easier to make associations with the divine and the religious due to the poem’s structure, that of a hymnal. There is also an emphasis – which would further strengthen the images of religion – on innocence. The lady’s beauty is largely innocent, almost virginal, and the poet cannot find a word that fully encompasses her beauty.
She reconciles dark and light together, appearing both glowing and also shrouded in darkness. One could make the association that the darkness that surrounds her – given that Byron met Mrs. Wilmont at a funeral – could be spiritual darkness and that her radiance was further set off by the dim spirits at the funeral. However, one could also take it as the expression of the ultimate peaceful beauty.
And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!
Unlike the day, the night is devoid of people, devoid of clouds, and quiet. It is when things rest. She is not warped by her own beauty, and she exists in a world that is, to Byron, peaceful – her heart is innocent, her mind clear. Given his own nature for troubled thoughts, it is interesting to see what Byron emphasizes as beautiful, though not at all surprising given the rumors that followed him throughout his life.
There is not much happening in the poem; it describes a few snatched moments of peace and quiet and wonder. The woman is left unaware of the impression she has made on the poet and continues, not knowing that she has become a symbol of beauty to someone witnessing her presence.
Historical Background and Context
Lord George Gordon Byron was born on 22 January 1788 in Dover – though people also believe that he might have been born in London. He was the son of Captain John ‘Mad Jack’ Byron and his second wife, the heiress of an estate in Aberdeenshire. His first wife, the Marchioness of Camarthen, was Augusta Leigh’s mother.
AS a leading figure of the Romantic movement – an attempt by writers and artists to dispel the scientific, rational movement’s effects and bring back magic and wonder to a humanistic world – Byron is regarded one of the greatest British poets one of most influential. Most of his works are inspired, in fact, by his travels: his Grand Tour of Europe, which led him to spend seven years in Italy, partially inspired Don Juan. He also fought in the Greek War of Independence, where the Greeks considered a national hero.
He died at 36 after contracting a fever that turned into sepsis.
Byron is talking about his cousin Mrs. Anne Beatrix Wilmont, who he saw on 11 June 1814. She was attending a party in London.
The main idea is that perfect beauty and kindness can exist in one woman. Byron uses the poem to celebrate that beauty and how he interpreted it in Anne Wilmont.
He describes her as beautiful on the inside and out. She is more inlight with darkness than the gaudy light, he says. Her hair is dark, and her eyes are bright like shining stars.
He wrote this poem in 1814. It has since become one of his most popular poems. It is also one of his shortest in only three stanzas.
He uses numerous contrasts, like comparing her bright eyes to her dark hair, in order to celebrate how multifaceted this woman is. She is a perfect balance, he implies, between day and night.
Readers who enjoyed ‘She Walks in Beauty’ should also consider reading some other Lord Byron poems. For example:
- ‘Fare Thee Well‘ – was Byron’s attempt at rebuilding his reputation. He hoped that people would read it and rethink what they believed about him.
- ‘Darkness‘ – serves as a warning against the growing inequality in Byron’s time and a prediction for what will happen to the planet if the human race does not change.
- ‘My Soul is Dark‘ – expresses Byron’s appreciation for music.