Readers of poetry often get confused because they stop when they reach the end of a line, even if there is no mark of punctuation there. This could be the case with this poem, which opens with an enjambed line, a line that does not end with a mark of punctuation. The word enjambment comes from the French word for leg, “jamb”; a line is enjambed when it runs over (using its “legs”) to the next line without a pause. If read by itself, the first line becomes confusing because the reader can only see a dark image, almost a blank image. If “she walks in beauty, like the night,” a reader might wonder how she can be seen. But the line continues: the night is a cloudless one and the stars are bright. So immediately the poem brings together its two opposing forces that will be at work, darkness and light.
These lines work well because they employ an enjambed line as well as a metrical substitution— a momentary change in the regular meter of the poem. When poets enjamb a line and use a metrical substitution at the beginning of the next line, they are calling attention to something that is a key to a poem. Here Byron substitutes atrochaic foot (an accented syllable followed by an unaccented one) for the iambic foot at the start of the fourth line. Why? Because he is putting particular emphasis on that word “meet.” He is emphasizing that the unique feature of this woman is her ability to contain opposites within her; “the best of dark and bright / meet” in her. In the same way that enjambment forces lines together, and a metrical substitution jars the reader somewhat, this woman joins together darkness and light, an unlikely pair. They “meet” in her, and perhaps nowhere else besides a starry night. It’s also important to note that the joining together can be seen in her “aspect,” or appearance, but also in her “eyes.” A reader might think of the eyes simply as a feature of beauty, but the eyes also have been associated in literature with the soul, or the internal aspect of the person: the eyes reveal the heart.
(The entire section is 860 words.)
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