She Walks In Beauty – Lord Byron

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!

Analysis

Have a look at this video clip before you read any further.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_zCOJOgd4U 

When it comes to poems, this is one of the most quoted poems of all time, especially the title. Anyone who is anything in the world of literature has heard the phrase “she walks in beauty as the night.” Mega famous poetry at its best! But what is it actually about? What is going on with some of the language in there? It does sound dated and faded by today’s more harsher standards doesn’t it? I mean, even the title seems a little off putting to a modern audience.

“She walks in beauty, as the night….” Can someone come up with a better, more trendy title please?

But I digress and I jest. It is a poem worthy of your time and it is about the innocence of a loving heart. It starts with those now famous words, “She walks in beauty, like the night,” so we know it is about someone the poet either loves, or admires from afar even or even has just met for the first time. He was a romantic poet after all. She walks “in beauty” signifies that she is a true beauty indeed, something special in Byron’s eyes and walks in this state of grace, “like the night.” But the next line gives more depth to this wonder he knows, for we see the words: “of cloudless climes and starry skies.” When there is not a cloud in the sky, the vision before us is wondrous to behold, when the stars are fully out and you can see the wonders of creation, however it came about.

This is someone beautiful indeed.

But there is more when it comes to her description, because “all that’s best of dark and bright meet in her aspect and her eyes.” The word “aspect” is a reference to her looks, her manner, her whole way of being and as far as Byron is concerned, this is perfection indeed. She might be an average lady he knows, by our standards, but his love covers that and he sees her as a vision of beauty, his muse almost, the thing that inspires him to write. We poets need to have something happen for us to feel inspired enough to write a poem.

All that is good, all that is graceful. All that is wondrous. That is where he places his love upon the brow of this unknown lady. She is “mellow’d to that tender light which heaven to gaudy day denies.”

byron_george_gordon_noel

These are odd words by today’s standards of English so we have to treat them as an example of archaic language even if there is not an example of words like “thee” or “thy” to put us off reading it. Then we get the words, “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.” They seem too hard for some people, which is another reason why I despair at the modern exam boards putting poems in that some will be able to read and understand, but where the rest will struggle and be put off poetry altogether. There are examples of poems that could be studied that would help the people of this planet to appreciate poetry more, even as good as this one is.

But as much as the rest can be confusing, what you need to get in your head is that this is a love poem par excellence, that was written just after Byron had met a young lady at a party one evening. A short google search on wikipedia, as dodgy as wiki can be, will give you these words:

She Walks in Beauty” is a short lyrical poem in iambic tetrameter written in 1813 by Lord Byron, and is one of his most famous works. It is said to have been inspired by an event in Byron’s life; while at a ball, Byron met his cousin by marriage through John Wilmot.”

But then, if you type in a slightly different request into Google, you get this…

“Lord Byron was the 6th Baron Byron. The poem was written in response to seeing his cousin, Lady Wilmot Horton, in a mourning dress at a party of Lady Sitwell’s on June 11, 1814. The poem was written by the next morning. It was published in Hebrew Melodies in 1815.”

So this begs a question then, one which has been asked for some time and will be asked for some time to come. It is a simple question and it is this. Is there such a thing as love at first sight?

I can answer that in the affirmative, for as soon as I saw my wife, I knew she was the one for me. I knew that the light shining on “that cheek, and o’er that brow” was enough for me to fall madly in love at that moment and so, after three days, I asked her to marry me and she said yes. Well, she actually told me I was not doing it right, so I had to get on one knee. She told me, both knees, so I did and I have been hooked ever since. I look at her and see what Byron saw in this mysterious young lady, her face “so soft,” and her manner “so calm,” unlike mine and “yet eloquent to the nth degree. I see “the smiles that win, the tints that glow” every time I look at her for she drives me mad, both good and bad, at times. But my love for her endures through thick and thin. I have even written poetry for her, which she adores.

So when I see this poem, it reminds me of when we first met, through a dating agency we both joined to see if they worked, to have a giggle as it were. Several months later, three to be precise, we were married and that was November 1986. Since that day, she has been the centre of my existence, the one person who has stood by my side when everyone else has fled, especially when the tough days and the Dog Days have been with us. We have both had ample opportunity to flee, but choose to stay together because the love we have for each other is pure and innocent and perfect!

That is what I see here in this poem, an immediate infatuation with the young lady he met at the party, to the point where he can feel he can express the deepest of emotions more or less straight away. He can tell of “days in goodness spent” with a woman whose mind is “at peace with all below [her]” in social standing and who has “a heart whose love is innocent.” Note the use of the exclamation mark at the end as well, for it is like he is feeling so passionate towards her he feels he has to ram the point of her grace and beauty home. She is perfection, after all. Do not be deceived by the word “passion” used in my analysis either. This is passion of both kinds; for her and towards her. His love is pure and his intentions good and honourable, even if we do things differently these days. Make no mistake. He loves this beautiful young lady. 

It is therefore, a poem that is difficult to grasp, but it is also one that expresses the deepest of emotions in such a gorgeous way, sharing his immediate affection for her, along with a big lump of passion as well. It is a poem that reflects the notion of love at first sight, but unless you do some research, you will never know if that love was ever reciprocated.

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