She walks in Beauty
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 mellow'd to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more,
one ray the less,
Had half impair'd 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.
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! (1)
The aim of this paper is to analyse the poem She Walks in Beauty, written by the Romantic poet Lord Byron. By analyzing it, we will try to state if the poem follows the topics and has the characteristics that a Romantic work is supposed to have.
Analysis of the poem
Let us start by analysing superficially the formal aspects of the poem.
“She walks in Beauty” is composed by three stanzas of six verses each.
We can find that the poem has rhythm, achieved by a tail rhyme that we observe along the entire poem. For instance, this is the case of the words “night”, “bright” and “light”; and “skies”, “eyes” and “denies” in the first stanza.
Moreover, the rhythm is also achieved by enjambed lines (lines that end without punctuation marks) that Byron uses in order to call the reader attention towards certain words, as we will comment below.
Now that the formal aspects are commented we will try to understand the poem by describing the main ideas that we find in it and trying to connect these ideas with the context: the Romanticism.
The first question that we have to ask ourselves is: What did Byron mean with “She walks in Beauty”? Let us start by the beginning of the poem, paying attention to the ideas explained by Garry Gamber in his discussion of the poem. (2)
In the first two verses we are given the information that will be constantly repeated along the entire poem: the contrast of light and darkness. So, Byron says that “she walks in beauty, like the night”, what makes us think about darkness and therefore the absence of light; but in the next line, he explains that it is a “cloudless” and “starry” night, that brings the bright feeling.
As we have pointed out before, this contrast is repeated along the poem, using words referred to the light, like “bright”, “light”, “ray” or “glow”, and their opposite words referred to darkness like “night”, “dark”, “shade” or “raven”.
But, what does he use these opposite terms for? The aim of this is to explain that both characteristics (light and darkness) are contained perfectly in the woman he is describing. This point is found in the second couple of lines, where Byron says that the best of light and dark meets in her, remarking the word “meet” using an enjambed line (a line that ends without punctuation marks, as we have explained before).
Furthermore, the poet points out that the opposites melt in a soft way since they achieve to create a “tender light” (line 5).
On the other hand, it is important to remark that the poet is not only talking about the physical aspect of a woman, but also about her mind and thoughts.
First, Byron mentions her eyes (line 4) and this is very important for our analysis because of the connection that the eyes and the soul had in the Romantic period: the eyes were considered as the part of the body that reflected the soul.
Moreover, Byron also mentions the woman’ thoughts as sweet and serenely expressed ones (line 11).
To conclude the poem, we find the last six verse stanza.
The first three verses make reference again to the physical aspect of the woman, but, like in the rest of the poem, the description is limited to her face: cheek, brow and smile.
Here we find again adjectives that make us think in a tender and soft woman: “calm”, “soft” (line 14).
This point is essential to Byron, because in the last three lines we see its consequence: a peaceful mind. This is to say: the physical aspect of this woman is a consequence of the peace that she has in her soul and in her thoughts. This conveys a Romantic idea: her outer beauty mirrors her inner beauty.
To sum up, in this poem, Lord Byron is describing a woman who contains opposites in perfect proportions in her external and internal personality, pointing out that her peaceful mind and thoughts are reflected in her perfect face.
The poem in relation with
the rest of Byron poetic production
The poem we have just analysed, “She walks in Beauty” was written by
Lord Byron on
The poem was published in a collection of poems called “Hebrew Melodies” in January of 1815. They were a group of 24 poems, the majority of them inspired in Biblical topics. (4) These poems were kind of songs to be set to traditional Jewish tunes, and Byron himself introduce them by using these words: “"The subsequent poems were written at the request of my friend, the Hon. D. Kinnaird, for a Selection of Hebrew Melodies, and have been published, with the music, arranged, by Mr. BRAHAM and Mr. NATHAN."(5)
However, as we can see in an article published by the
The collection includes short poems with different kinds of rhymes as for instance “My soul is Dark”, “Sun of the Sleepless” or “The Destruction of Sennacherib”.
They were not very appreciated by Lord Byron, who did not give them a lot of importance.
But, in what moment of Byron’s life are the Hebrew Melodies written?
In January 1815, Byron, who is now around 27 years old, has already come
back from his travels around the world (
After publishing his work Lara in 1814, he writes “She walks in Beauty” and some months later, he marries Anne Isabella Milbanke, just before publishing the Hebrew Melodies.
The poem and the Romanticism
Now that we have already analysed the poem and we have also located it into Byron biography, it is time now to try to point out which Romantic ideas we can observe in the poem we are discussing.
The Romanticism was a movement that took place in the 18th century in the West of Europe and it had some characteristics that we can find in Byron’s poem.
On the one hand, the Romanticism “stressed strong emotion as a source of aesthetic experience” (7) and this is something that is clearly present in the poem we are working on. The poem She Walks in Beauty is just a bridge that Byron created to transmit the reader the intense feeling he experienced when he first saw the woman he is describing. This way, he achieves to explain this aesthetic experience by using words and rhetorical figures as comparison, and from my point of view, the moment he lived and the feelings he had in that instant will last forever thanks to this poem.
On the other hand, another important characteristic of the Romanticism is the inclination to talk about nature. This is also present in this poem, where the author is constantly making reference to natural elements in order to describe better what she felt when she met the woman he is talking about. Some examples of these elements are: “night of cloudless climes”, “starry skies”, “shade”, “ray” or “raven tress”.
Finally, another characteristic of the Romanticism that I think that can be also found in the poem would be the medievalism. In the middle Ages there was a inclination in literature to put emphasis on women qualities and troubadours used to sing to them in order to praise their qualities.(8) This is exactly what Byron is trying to do in this poem: he is emphasizing the qualities of a woman and what he felt when she was before him.
To sump up, after having analysed this poem and after having enumerated the Romantic features that we can find in the poem, we can conclude that She Walks in Beauty is a Romantic poem that has a lot of the characteristics of the movement: strong emotion as a source of a aesthetic experience, inclination to talk about nature and medieval features.
1. "She Walks in Beauty." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 19 Dec 2007, 18:02 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 14 Jan 2008 <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=She_Walks_in_Beauty&oldid=178996529>.
2. Gamber, Garry.
""She Walks In Beauty," A Discussion of the Poem by Lord
3. "She Walks in Beauty." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 12 Nov 2007, 21:25 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 28 Nov 2007 <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=She_Walks_in_Beauty&oldid=171044222>.
4. Pujals, Esteban. Espronceda y Lord Byron. Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 1951.
5. " Hebrew Melodies" Universitat de València Press.
6. Tom Mole,
7. "Romanticism." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 14 Jan 2008, 17:45 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 14 Jan 2008 <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Romanticism&oldid=184290857>.
8. "Medieval literature." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 28 Nov 2007, 14:52 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 14 Jan 2008 <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Medieval_literature&oldid=174377651>.