She walks in beauty

She Walks in Beauty

by Lord Byron (George Gordon)

She Walks in Beauty Summary and Analysis

In Short

  • Lord Byron’s poem “She Walks in Beauty” presents a perfectly beautiful young woman who is as beautiful as a clear starlit night sky.
  • One shade of more light or dark would spoil the perfect beauty that the lady is.
  • The woman is not only outwardly beautiful, but her smiles and other emotional expressions suggest her inner calmness and goodness of her heart.

She Walks in Beauty – Explanation

Stanza 1

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;

One of the beautiful poems of Lord Byron opens up with the praise of one’s beauty. The speaker begins by describing the beauty of an unnamed woman. He refers her only by the pronoun “she”. The words “walks in beauty” indicates that her movement and every spring in her step make her more beautiful. Actually, she is not just a pretty face as shown in a portrait, it’s the whole living, breathing, walking woman that’s beautiful.

In the next line, she is compared to something cosmic as “night of cloudless climes and starry skies”. Thus, the woman who is the subject of this poem is as flawlessly beautiful as a clear and starlit night sky. It seems not just a personal beauty, but a celestial, almost spiritual quality.

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.

Everything that is great about both “dark” and “bright” come together in that woman’s ‘aspect’ and especially her eyes. She’s got the best of both in a harmonious blend. Here “aspect” can mean her looks, facial expression and her overall appearance. Her eyes are the best part of creating some kind of harmony between “dark” and “bright”.

She is neither too dark like the night, nor too light like the day. Instead, she radiates tender light. This is less “gaudy” or less flashy than the light which we get during the day. Thus, nature seems to have blessed the woman with a perfect balance.

Stanza 2

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;

In this second stanza of “She Walks in Beauty”, the speaker reiterates that the woman has the perfect balance of beauty. A touch of shade more, or even one ray of light less could mess everything up.

Her grace and beauty which can’t be defined by words (nameless grace) is visible in every lock of her black hair (A raven is a dark bird and ‘tress’ means long lock of hair). She also has the right amount of “shade” and “rays” balanced in the look of her face.

Where thoughts serenely sweet express
how pure, how dear, their dwelling -place.

Midway through the poem, the speaker now shifts his attention to describe the woman’s inner beauty. The serene (quiet) thoughts of her mind are so sweet that they make her countenance delighted in joy. In other words, the expression in her face indicates how sweet her thoughts and emotions are.

The speaker now wonders how pure and precious (dear) the “dwelling-place” of the lady’s thoughts must be. Here the “dwelling place” might indicate the woman’s head where the thoughts originate from, or her heart, the source of all emotions, or even the lady’s overall physique. Anyway, the speaker indicates to the woman’s overall beauty and innocence.

Stanza 3

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,

Our speaker is awfully struck by the lady’s looks. He finds the winning smiles and the glowing shades of emotional expressions on her cheeks and brow so soft and measured and yet so fluent (eloquent). The smiles on her face and the blushes that glow on her cheeks show that her days are spent well. It is reflective of her clarity of mind and inner goodness.

A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

Besides being beautiful, soft and calm, the woman is also kind and good. Her “mind” is “at peace with all below”. This is indicative of the lady’s humble and down-to-earth nature.

Again, her heart is very pure and love is innocent. In other words, her love is genuine and not attached to any selfish desire. All of these qualities, physical and spiritual, make the lady worthy of praise that the speaker showers upon her.

She Walks in Beauty – Into Details

Publication

“She Walks in Beauty” is a famous short lyrical poem written by the British Romantic poet Lord Byron (George Gordon Byron). He wrote it in the year 1814 when he was 26 years old. Later it was published in the month of April, 1815 in “Hebrew Melodies”.

Background/context

Lord Byron’s poem “She Walks in Beauty” was written in praise of a beautiful woman. History holds that the poem was inspired by the poet’s meeting with Mrs. Anne Beatrix Wilmot, wife of Byron’s first cousin, sir Robert Wilmot. On 11 June, 1814, Byron attended a party in London and there he met with her. She wore a sprangled black dress. Byron was struck by her unusual beauty. He went home and next day he wrote this poem.

Setting

“She Walks in Beauty” doesn’t have a specific setting. Primarily it takes place in the mind of the speaker, who describes the beauty of a woman in this poem. The entire poem evokes a kind of setting, mentioning a clear night sky. Everything is lit only by moonlight and stars. Also, we can assume that this poem is a beautiful description of a woman’s outer and inner appearances. So that woman’s body can be a part of the setting too.

Title

The title of the poem “She Walks in Beauty” is also the first line of the poem. It represents female beauty, a portrait of a woman through someone else’s eyes. The beauty of the woman is in both her external appearance and her inner goodness. In fact, the lady’s beauty is in harmony to her overall existence.

Here the title rightly strikes the keynote of the poem in the very beginning. We can immediately visualise a woman of unparalleled beauty which is evident in her every move.

Form and language

Byron’s poem “She Walks in Beauty” has a simple and regular form. It consists of three stanzas, six lines each. The poem is a lyric, both in its poetic form and in the sense that the words are written to accompany a piece of music. The poet uses rich and varied language which draws the attention of the readers.

Meter and Rhyme scheme

The poem follows a regular rhyme scheme of ABABAB in each stanza. However, in the last stanza the words “brow”, “glow” and “below” are half-rhymes or slant rhymes.

The poem follows iambic tetrameter throughout the whole poem. An iamb is a disyllabic metrical foot consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one (da-DUM). And, tetrameter means four feet per line. There is only one exception in the metrical pattern of the poem. The first foot of the fourth line is a trochee (stressed-unstressed).

She walks | in beau– | ty, like | the night
Of cloud– | less climes | and star– | ry skies;
And all | that’s best | of dark | and bright
Meet in | her as– | pect and | her eyes;

She Walks in Beauty – Themes

Inner and outer beauty

The poem “She Walks in Beauty” highlights female beauty. The speaker presents absolute beauty of a woman, both in her outer appearance and inner goodness. These two are interlinked with each other. Indeed, the woman’s outer appearance is read as a sign of her inner serenity, peacefulness and innocence. The woman’s face is depicted as the site on which her thoughts are “expressed”. The poem depicts a kind of beauty that combines both physical appearance and character.

The poet is perhaps of the opinion that only physical appearance doesn’t make a woman perfectly beautiful. Outer expressions like her smile and happiness are deeply linked with the emotions which come from inside. According to the speaker, outer beauty is a reflection of inner purity – both are in harmony with each other.

She Walks in Beauty – Symbols

Light and dark

The poet in “She Walks in Beauty” attempts to portray the physical and inner beauty of a woman. It presents that beauty as a kind of harmony that is as distinct as it is rare. In this poem, the beauty of the woman is almost unique. The woman’s physical appearance brings together “all that’s best of dark and bright”. This implies that beauty is a harmony between discrete components like darkness and light. Beauty takes the “best” of these elements and places them in a fine balance.

The speaker even goes on to say how only a shade of extra light or dark affects the lady’s physical beauty. Actually, this poem cherishes perfection to female beauty. And, ‘dark and bright’ are here symbols of fullness and multi-dimensionality through which the rare harmony and perfection of beauty are achieved.

She Walks in Beauty – Literary Devices

End-stopped lines

End-stopped line in poetry is a line of verse where a sentence or phrase ends at the end of the line, generally with a punctuation mark like a comma, colon, full stop etc.

In “She Walks in Beauty”, most of the lines are end-stopped lines, especially in the second and third stanzas.

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;

Enjambment

In poetry, when a sentence continues to the next line of a verse without pause, it is called an enjambment. All the odd lines in the first stanza of the poem “She Walks in Beauty” are enjambments.

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;

Caesura

A caesura in poetry is a pause (with a comma, semicolon etc.) in the middle of a line. Here’s an example from the last stanza of the poem.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,

Assonance

Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in nearby words.

For example, the repetition of /ʌɪ/ sound in ‘like’ and ‘night’ and again in ‘climes’ and ‘skies’.

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;

Again, notice the repetition of ‘o’ sound in the following line.

Or softly lightens o’er her face;

Consonance

Consonance is the opposite of assonance – repetition of consonant sounds in neighbouring words.

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;

See the repetition of consonant sounds ‘s’, ‘k’, ‘t’, ‘c’ and ‘l’ in the first two lines of the poem. These are instances of consonance.

Alliteration

Alliteration is a sub-category of consonance. It is the repetition of consonant sounds in the beginning (or, stressed syllables) of nearby words.

Of cloudless climes and starry skies;

Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

Sibilance

Sibilance is also a sub-type of consonance where the letter ‘s’ is repeated several times creating a hissing sound.

Ssoft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,

Simile

A simile is a direct comparison between two different things using the word ‘as’ or ‘like’.

In the first two lines of the poem “She Walks in Beauty”, the beautiful lady is compared to a night with cloudless starry sky using ‘like’. This is a good instance of simile.

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;

Metaphor

A metaphor is an indirect comparison between two different things where there is a point of similarity.

Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,

In the above example, ‘tress’ means lock of hair. Raven is a black bird. The poet uses ‘raven tress’ to mean ‘black’ lock of hair. The woman’s hair is thus compared to the raven bird for their similarity of colour. This is an example of metaphor.

Metonymy

Metonymy is a figure of speech in which a thing or concept is referred to by the name of another thing closely associated with it.

Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

In the fifth and sixth lines of the poem, the speaker talks about the tender light that the lady radiates. It is the kind of light that ‘heaven’ denies to the bright ‘gaudy’ day. Here the word ‘heaven’ is used to refer to God or the upper atmosphere. Thus, it is an example of metonymy.

Personification

Personification is the attribution of human qualities to non-human things.

Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

In the above line, heaven is again personified by using the verb ‘denies’ with it. Heaven is not really a living being which can deny anyone anything. But, of course, it can when it is personified.

Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;

In the above lines, I think there is a subtle personification of ‘grace’ which is ‘nameless’ (indescribable). Moreover, ‘grace’ here waves through the locks of black hair and lightens the lady’s face. It seems like the grace is here indulged in certain activities, thus making it a personification.

Parallelism

Parallelism in literature is the use of similar or parallel grammatical structures in a sentence or paragraph.

One shade the more, one ray the less,

The smiles that win, the tints that glow,

Notice the parallel structures used in the above examples.

Antithesis

It is the placement of two opposite ideas together for creating a contrasting effect. Take these examples:

And all that’s best of dark and bright

One shade the more, one ray the less,

Diacope

Diacope is a rhetorical device where words are repeated with a small number of intervening words in between.

How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,

Cite this page