“She Walks in Beauty” George Gordon Noel Byron’s poem titled, “She Walks in Beauty,” plainly put, is a love poem about a beautiful woman and all of her features. The poem follows a basic iambic tetrameter with an unaccented syllable followed by an accented syllable that allows for a rhythm to be set by the reader and can be clearly seen when one looks at a line: She walks / in beau / ty like / the night. T.S. Eliot, an American poet criticizes Byron’s work by stating the poem, “needs to be read very rapidly because if one slows down the poetry vanishes and the rhyme is forced” (Eliot 224). With this rhythm the reader can, however, look deeper into the contents of Byron’s poem and discover a battle of two forces. The two forces involved in Byron’s poem are the darkness and light- at work in the woman’s beauty, and also the two areas of her beauty-the internal and the external.
The poem appears to be about a lover, but in fact was written about “Byron’s cousin, Anne Wilmot, whom he met at a party in a mourning dress of spangled black” (Leung 312). This fact, the black dress that was brightened with spangles, helps the reader to understand the origin of the poem. Byron portrays this, the mixing of the darkness and the light, not by describing the dress or the woman’s actions, but by describing her physical beauty as well as her interior strengths. In the beginning of the poem, the reader is given the image of darkness: “She walks in beauty, like the night,” but then the line continues explaining that the night is cloudless and the stars are bright. So immediately the poem brings together its two opposing forces that are at work, darkness and light. In lines three and four Byron emphasizes that the unique feature of the woman is her ability to contain opposites within her; “the nest of dark and bright/meet” in her.
The joining together of the darkness and the light can be seen in her “aspect,” or appearance, but also in her “eyes.” In this case, “the woman’s eyes aren’t to be associated with a physical feature, but more as an internal aspect of her: the eyes reveal her heart”(Martin 24). L.C. Martin, from the University of Nottingham, also writes that Byron, “emphasizes the unique feature of this woman to contain opposites within her,”(24) therefore agreeing with the concept that not only is there a struggle between the darkness and the light, but also within the woman. Beginning with line five, the word “meet” is emphasized again as she creates a “tender light,” not the gaudiness of daytime, but a gentler light that even “heaven” does not bestow an the day. The night can be thought of in terms of irrationality and the day in terms or reason and neither day nor night is pleasing, only the meeting of the two extremes in this woman.
In the second stanza, once again, the opposites are combined. “Shade” or darkness is combined with “day” or light, and “raven tress” or dark hair is linked with a lightened face. If the woman contained with in her and in her appearance either a little bit more of darkness or a little bit more of light, she would be “half impaired.” A key word in this section is “grace.” Although Byron continuously talks about appearances, in actuality he is referring to the “nameless grace” that is in her hair and face. Once again, it is something internal as well as external that is so attractive about this woman. Although this poem begins with the image of a woman walking, there are no images given by Byron of her legs or arms or feet; this is a head poem, confined to hair, eyes, face, cheeks, and brows.
The conclusion to the second stanza contains insight into “the dwelling place” of the woman’s thoughts, creating an insight into her mind by using alliteration. The repetition of the “s” sounds is soothing in the phrase “serenely sweet express,” because “Byron is referring to her thoughts, and her thoughts are serene and pure”(25). In the third and final stanza, Byron concludes the poem with three lines a physical description that lead to the final three lines the woman’s moral characterization. The soft cheeks, the winning smile, the tints in the skin eloquently express not only physical beauty, but they also attest to her morality. The physical beauty, the speaker can conclude, reflects days spent doing well, a mind at peace, and “a heart whose love is innocent!” Byron convinces the reader that this woman is perfect.
If any one aspect of her were to be different, she would be half-impaired. Byron uses many antonyms to describe this woman but still portrays a perfect balance within her, often using opposites like darkness and light to create this balance. As L.C. Martin states, “Whether Byron would have preferred a less innocent cousin, someone with whom he could enjoy Byronic passions, is left unspoken for the reader to decipher”(25). Without the two forces and the struggle within this woman, Byron’s poem would have been a plain love poem, but because the forces are so pronounced by his use of colorful language, rhythm, and use of human characteristics, “She Walks in Beauty” is world renowned for its powerful description. Not only does it describe a woman’s physical beauty, but also her interior strengths.
Works Cited Eliot, T.S., “Byron,” in On Poetry and Poets, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1957, p.224. Martin, L.C., in Byron’s Lyrics, The University of Nottingham, 1948, pp. 24-25. Leung, Mathew, preface to Poetry of Byron, by Lord Byron, Macmillian, 1881, Reprinted as “Byron, “in Essays in Criticism, Dutton, 1964, pp. 312-30.