Analysis of She Walks in Beauty by Lord Byron

In Lord Byron’s poem, She Walks in Beauty, the poet praises a woman’s beauty. Yet, the poet not only focuses on the external appearance of the woman but extends his glorification onto the internal aspect of her, making the woman more divine and praiseworthy. In this analysis, we will first discuss the meaning of the poem, and later consider some of the poetic mechanisms and the form that the poet used to make his poem richer.

The first stanza of the poem describes the physical appearance of the woman. Byron starts the poem with the phrase “She walks in beauty, like the night/ Of cloudless climes and starry skies;.”(1-2) Here, the poet creates an image of a dark, clear sky with twinkling stars, and make a contrast between brightness and darkness. This contrast could mean diverse things, such as “black hair” and “white skin”, or “deep, black eyes” and “clear, white parts of the eyes.” The image created by this contrast represents the cloth the woman is wearing; a black dress with sparkles on it. In the next line, “And all that’s best of dark and bright/ Meet in her aspect and her eyes:,”(3-4) we see how the opposite characteristics of darkness and brightness mentioned in previous lines reappear to mingle and create a wonderful harmony. In the last two lines of this stanza, we see another contrast in imagery. The darkness and brightness from lines above have “mellowed”(5) to become a “tender light,”(5) and this gets contrasted with the expression “gaudy day,”(6) which inheres a negative connotation of excessiveness. Thus, the woman that the poet is praising is in great balance. Opposites “meet” in the woman to create a calm, soft image.

The second stanza of She Walks in Beauty continues to praise the woman’s appearance, but starting from line 11, the poet extends this external beauty onto the woman’s personality. In the phrase “Had half impaired the nameless grace,”(8) the poet tells us that the woman’s face is in such a perfect portion that just a slight change would damage it. From the expression “half impaired,” we could once again draw out two significant meanings. First, it could mean that although the balance is destroyed, the beauty will still be half marvelous because it is only “half impaired.” Or, if we focus on the notion of “imperfection” when something is in half, the poet might be emphasizing the current, “greatly balanced” status of the woman’s appearance which should not be destroyed. The expression “nameless grace”(8) is also significant. By adding the word “nameless” in front of the word “grace,” the poet enlarged the woman’s beauty and greatness, thereby suggesting it as something so priceless that can’t be defined nor expressed as a name. We could also understand that the woman has a black hair from the expression “Which waves in every raven tress,.”(9) Compared with conventional qualities of “beauty” during the time when Byron wrote this poem, “black hair” which this woman has is extraordinary. This distinctiveness amplifies the woman’s beauty, as she distinguishes herself from others. Lastly, in the last two lines, “Where thoughts serenely sweet express/ How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.,”(11-12) we start to see how the woman’s inner beauty is reflected in her appearance. “Dwelling-place,”(12) which is where the mind and the spirit belong, is also sweet and pure. With this perfect inner quality added to her external beauty, the woman becomes more perfect as she possesses beauty inside out.

The last stanza also talks both about the woman’s inner and outer characteristics. Her cheek and her smiles are beautiful. In the phrases “days in goodness spent,”(16) “mind at peace,”(17) and “heat whose love is innocent,”(18) we understand that the woman’s inner thoughts are also as pure and graceful just as her appearance. As in previous stanzas, he once again shows the theme of this poem, which is the woman’s physical beauty along with her internal beauty.

Now, let’s go on to analyzing the form of She Walks in Beauty. This poem takes the form of ABABAB-CDCDCD-EFEFEF, each line composed of an iambic tetrameter. Different with forms of sonnets which usually have an “explosion” at the ending part of the poem, She Walks in Beauty carries on the “ABABAB” pattern all throughout the poem, making the poem organized as the harmonious woman. Added to this, the great use of simple rhymes creates a soft atmosphere, seemingly portraying the nature of the woman. Also, the repetition of the “unstressed-stressed” words gives us a soft, stepping rhythm. Just as the poet had described in the first two lines how pleasantly the woman walks in her dress, it gives a walking-like rhythm and a flow to the overall poem. It is interesting to see how this regular rhythm of “unstressed-stressed” pattern changes in line 4and the word “Meet”(4) gets stressed, emphasizing how the contrasting values of darkness and brightness “meet” in the woman and creates a harmony.

Next, let’s look at the five major poetic mechanisms Byron used in this poem. First, the poet uses personification such as “smiles that win”(15) and “heart whose love is innocent,”(18) to vividly describe the woman’s soft smiles and pure heart. Second, there is a use of synesthesia in the expression “tender light.”(5) Mixture of a visual sense and a tactile sense amplifies the image of softness that the woman possesses. Third, use of similes and metaphors in parts “like the night,”(1) “nameless grace / which waves in every raven trees,”(8-9) the poet compares “grace”(8), the quality of the woman, to an observable phenomenon “raven trees”(9) and makes the portray more clear. Fourth, Byron also uses metonymies like “smiles”(15) to represent “the woman,” and “heaven”(6) to represent “god.” Lastly, to give the poem a smooth flow, the poet uses alliteration in parts such as “cloudless climes,”(2) “starry skies,”(2) “day denies,”(6) and “serenely sweet.”(11) These intended usages of words contribute also in deepening the meaning of the words. We could associate the sound of “starry skies,”(2) represented by the sound ‘s,’ with the woman’s skirt dragging on the ground, and the sound of ‘d’ in “day denies,”(6) with the feeling of denial and rejection.

To summarize, the overall tone of She Walks in Beauty is soft and calm, quite different with the image we have about poet, Lord Byron. Perhaps this extreme contrast between the lovely poem and the author who have lived a dissipated lifestyle makes the poem touches us stronger. We could vividly feel how strong Byron’s admiration of the woman was. Use of soft and simple languages rather than heavy, intellectual words is also significant, as it demonstrates the pure, easily noticeable beauty of the woman. The woman portrayed in this poem must have been truly beautiful to catch Byron’s attention at once, and make him write such a vivid poem.

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About pminhyung

Park Minhyung, 14th wave KMLA
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