George Gordon Lord Byron (1788-1824)

                          She Walks in Beauty

              1She walks in beauty, like the night
              2      Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
              3And all that's best of dark and bright
              4      Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
              5Thus mellow'd to that tender light
              6      Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

              7One shade the more, one ray the less,
              8      Had half impair'd the nameless grace
              9Which waves in every raven tress,
            10      Or softly lightens o'er her face;
            11Where thoughts serenely sweet express
            12      How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

            13And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
            14      So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
            15The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
            16      But tell of days in goodness spent,
            17A mind at peace with all below,
            18      A heart whose love is innocent!

Publication date: 1815

Poem source: http://rpo.library.utoronto.ca/poem/365.html


                  William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

                   She Was a Phantom of Delight

              1 She was a Phantom of delight
              2When first she gleamed upon my sight;
              3A lovely Apparition, sent
              4To be a moment's ornament;
              5Her eyes as stars of Twilight fair;
              6Like Twilight's, too, her dusky hair;
              7But all things else about her drawn
              8From May-time and the cheerful Dawn;
              9A dancing Shape, an Image gay,
            10To haunt, to startle, and way-lay.

            11I saw her upon nearer view,
            12A Spirit, yet a Woman too!
            13Her household motions light and free,
            14And steps of virgin-liberty;
            15A countenance in which did meet
            16Sweet records, promises as sweet;
            17A Creature not too bright or good
            18For human nature's daily food;
            19For transient sorrows, simple wiles,
            20Praise, blame, love, kisses, tears, and smiles.

            21And now I see with eye serene
            22The very pulse of the machine;
            23A Being breathing thoughtful breath,
            24A Traveller between life and death;
            25The reason firm, the temperate will,
            26Endurance, foresight, strength, and skill;
            27A perfect Woman, nobly planned,
            28To warn, to comfort, and command;
            29And yet a Spirit still, and bright
            30With something of angelic light.

Publication date: 1807

Poem source: http://rpo.library.utoronto.ca/poem/2366.html

         The two poems I am going to compare are: “She was a Phantom of Delight” by William Wordsworth, and “She walks in beauty” by Lord Byron.  The main particula-rity that the poems have in common is that, in both cases, the poets are dealing with the description of a woman. However, both poems seem more like a metaphorical portrayal about angelical figures than about real women themselves. Moreover, as we can see, both poets use the word “she” to write about the women they are des-cribing, so they do not give any women’s name and, at the same time, they make their poems look more like a reflection than a direct and dedicated description to the women themselves. Nevertheless, both women are known by the poets, because one is William Wordsworth´s wife (Mary Worthsworth) and the other one is Lord Byron’s cousin: “Mrs. Wilmot, whom he met at a party in a mourning dress of spangled black” (http://rpo.library.utoronto.ca/poem/365.html)
        In the poems, the authors play with the contrast between light and darkness. In both poems, the women are surrounded by darkness, the night, the black colour…. and they are presented as the light that shines that darkness (specially their eyes). For example, in Lord Byron’s poem, the whole text deals with the image that in this world of darkness, the woman he is referring represents and catches the light that is nowhere else (lines 3-6). And in Wordsworth´s poem, the author also uses the image of the woman and her eyes to play with the metaphor that she was the light among the darkness (at least when they first met) (lines 5-6). In both poems there is a link between the authors´ eyes and the women’s eyes, which also shows the connection there is between the authors´ soul and the women’s soul. The poets look through the women’s eyes to really find the light among all that darkness and the truth of who they really are.

        Another important point that the poems have in common is that the authors relate the vision they have of the women at first sight. They make their reflection and know everything they know about both women just looking once to their aspect (the visual factor and the first impression acquire much importance in the texts.) For example: Lord Byron presents us the woman just referring to what he is contemplating; just looking her eyes (line 4), her face (lines 10, 13) her smiles (line 15)… and then he writes about what that image evokes to him, but he does not write about any action. In Wordsworth´s poem, the visual aspect is also very important, (as we can see in lines 2, 11, 21…), but, however, we can appreciate a clear sign of time passing along the poem that is marked in the different stanzas. The author begins each stanza (lines 1, 11 and 21) narrating the way he watches the woman, and he plays with the concept of distance and the verb tenses to indicate the pass of time. Besides, although Wordsworth only focuses, as Byron, on the first impression and strictly in the image of the woman, he also introduces some reflections that let us think that the author knows the woman better than Byron does (at least just by reading the poem). For example, lines 15-20 show us that the author really knows the woman very well: he writes about daily things and especially in lines 19-20, he makes a clear allusion to the relationship they have had and the time they have spent together.
       Despite the fact that both poets give a very positive vision about the women, they treat that vision from a different perspective, although both arrive to the same conclusion. Lord Byron presents us the woman like she was an angel. He only uses adjectives and expressions to describe her purity and innocence: “grace” (L. 8), “How pure, how dear their dwelling-place” (L.12), (Lines 15-16), and, specially, the final conclusion which gives us the real impression the author has about the wo-man’s image: “A heart whose love is innocent” (L. 18). Nevertheless, Wordsworth´s vision is slightly different. The first thing that catches your attention is that he describes the woman like she was a spirit or a ghost: “Phantom” “Spirit” “Appari-tion”… and this is not very typical. It looks more like a kind of gothic description than a typical romantic love poem. In my opinion it is very weird to describe a wo-man like she was a “Creature” or a “Being” that walks around the house like she was a ghost. Though, the strange factor is that the author links these “negative” words with “positive” adjectives and he gives us the impression of a curious contrast: “A lovely Apparition” (L.3), “A dancing Shape, an Image gay” (L.9)… and specially the final couplet: “And yet a Spirit still, and bright/ With something of angelic light”, where, as Byron, the author makes a connection between the image and the physical figure of the woman and her metaphysical presence.          

.        As I have commented before, the concept of time is very important in both poems. For instance, Lord Byron describes the woman only focusing in a specific moment: the present, here and now. Since the beginning with “She walks in beauty”   he marks the present situation and, although he develops his description, we can appreciate that he is only writing about that moment. However, in Wordsworth´s poem, there is a progression. He starts the poem when he first saw the woman and he develops his knowledge and portrayal about the woman just as time passes. The curious fact is that, although both poets develop their writings in a very different way: Lord Byron narrates just a point in time by witnessing the girl only in a positive way; and that Wordsworth follows a kind of chronological line introducing positive aspects, but also negative ones… the two poets arrive to the same conclusion: the last lines of both poems are very similar: the admiration and recognition that those women are like angelical beings.

       In conclusion: In spite of the fact that both poems seem the typical love romantic poems, it is curious to analyse how both poets treat the same topic and get to the same conclusion, but the development of their poems is slightly different. And, of course, the feature that has caught my attention is that Wothsworth treats the woman, like she was a ghost, like she was a figure in the middle between life and death… and, although I think that the poet captures and is influenced by the gothic references, it is not very typical to describe the woman you love that way. Even so, both poets are able to give the impression that the women they are portraying are beyond the physical nature, despite the fact that they only write about the image and the impression they have about the women just by witnessing them.

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