The Poem (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
“She Walks in Beauty” is a short poem, consisting of three six-line stanzas. On the surface it is a fairly conventional description of a beautiful woman, evidently someone with whom Byron is acquainted. The poet does not identify her by name, indicate his relationship to her, or hint as to the occasion that brought them together. (Scholars have ferreted out these matters.) Even if such information is not essential to understanding the poem, it is surprising that Byron provides so little concrete detail about the actual appearance of the woman he is describing. He does not speak of her as tall or short, slender or statuesque; he does not tell his readers the color of her dress or the color of her eyes. In fact, at the end of the poem the only specific fact the reader knows is that she has black hair.
Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the lady has made a definite impression on the poet. To him, she is beautiful in the same way that “night” is beautiful, and, as he hastens to add, he means a particular kind of night, one of “cloudless climes and starry skies.” There is no threat of a storm in this imagined landscape; there are no clouds to produce even a shower. Such a night is not really dark, for, as readers are told, the sky is filled with stars. Their light is soft and subdued; similarly, the dark lady has “tender” eyes, as unlike those of less subtle women as the light of a “starry” night is from that of “gaudy day.”...
(The entire section is 502 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Forms and Devices (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
Though Byron may have rebelled against tradition in other ways, his poems are generally conventional in form. “She Walks in Beauty” is no exception. It is written in standard iambic tetrameter, with alternating rhymes, a new set in each stanza. Metrically, the poem is quite predictable; there are none of the lilting anapestic variations so familiar in Byron’s other works, but stately measures are appropriate for a woman who is herself so decorous. The masculine line endings and the use of end-stopped lines, alternating with lines which necessitate a pause, recall the neoclassical heroic couplet, a form Byron much admired. However, here there is no satire nor epigrammatic wit; instead, the purpose of the form is to ensure the slow progress of the poem, thus emphasizing the lady’s dignity, her steadiness, and her self-control.
The poem is also interesting in the degree to which it is dominated by a single simile. Although after the first stanza the poet abandons explicit references to the night, throughout the poem he emphasizes the idea of perfect balance, not only between dark and light but also between thought and action, mind and heart.
Nevertheless, though “She Walks in Beauty” praises harmony, it has other implications as well, reminding one that, for all his neoclassical dedication to form and balance, Byron was, after all, a Romantic. To a degree, the images work to deny the poet’s explicit statements, for although the pace...
(The entire section is 336 words.)
Lord Byron is considered one of the most important and interesting poets of the romantic movement in England, and “She Walks in Beauty” is frequently considered one of his most powerful works. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, romanticism swept across the world, affecting the sensibilities of artists and philosophers in a number of countries. Like any social movement, it was not the result of any kind of structured effort on the parts of its adherents so much as it reflected a response to the times they lived in and the problems that they found with the work of artists that came before them.
The last half of the 1700s represented a time of great social unrest in Western society. In the United States, this era is best remembered for the American Revolution, which was fought from 1776 to 1783, leading to the adoption of the Constitution in 1789. Even more compelling to the people of Europe was the French Revolution, which lasted from 1789 to 1799. While the American Revolution freed a new colonial country from the country that ruled it, establishing a democratic government of the people, by the people, and for the people, the revolution in France overturned the government of a political structure that had existed for hundreds of years. Both revolutions reflected the same basic principles, supporting the rights of individuals to control their own fates and rejecting the previous order that gave the aristocratic ruling class the power...
(The entire section is 760 words.)
The three six-line stanzas of this poem all follow the same rhyme scheme and the same metrical pattern. There are only six rhyming sounds in this eighteen-line poem because the poem rhymes ababab, cdcdcd, efefef. The pairing of two rhyming sounds in each stanza works well because the poem concerns itself with the two forces—darkness and light—at work in the woman’s beauty, and also the two areas of her beauty—the internal and the external. The rhyming words themselves, especially in the first stanza, have importance: notice how “night” rhymes with its opposites, “light” and “bright,” in the same way that this woman contains the two opposing forces in her particular type of beauty. Oftentimes poets use their poetic structures to mirror what the poem’s chief concerns are. Poetic form—stanzas and meter—and content—what the poem’s subject is—are almost always related.
The meter is also very regular—iambic tetrameter. This means there are four—“tetra” is Greek for four—iambs per line. An iamb means that the line is divided into units, or feet, of two syllables, and each unit has an unaccented syllable followed by an accented syllable. This can be clearly seen if you look closely at the construction of a particular line:
She walks / in beau / ty like / the night.
This poem was included in Byron’s 1815 book, Hebrew Melodies, which included poems...
(The entire section is 262 words.)
Compare and Contrast
1815: The world’s political powers are in a state of change. The French army of Napoleon Bonaparte is defeated by the British at Waterloo, ending his dominance of Europe, while the British army is defeated in the Battle of New Orleans, establishing America’s control of the continent.
Today: The major military powers seldom come into direct conflict with each other, although they do take sides in the conflicts of smaller nations.
1815: A woman in mourning for a dead relative is expected to wear black for at least a year and to stay out of public social situations for at least that long.
Today: Social conventions for how a person should express her or his grief have less stringent rules.
1815: A London banker is able to get news of Napoleon’s defeat days before the newspapers have the information because he has associates send the report by carrier pigeon.
Today: Cell phones and e-mail transmit information around the globe instantly.
1815: Sources of artificial light are gas lanterns (in the wealthier homes) and candles. Today: Most homes and streets are lit with electrical light.
(The entire section is 183 words.)
Topics for Further Study
Can a person’s spiritual goodness make them physically beautiful? Give examples of qualities you feel would make a person beautiful and explain why.
Try to draw a picture of what you imagine the woman in this poem to be like, taking care to include what details Lord Byron gives about her, but also giving your own interpretation of her beauty.
This poem is written in a very common metric scheme, iambic tetrameter. Try to find a contemporary song that you like that fits this meter and sing this poem to that music.
Find pictures of a male and female from the early nineteenth century. How have standards of beauty changed from Byron’s time to our own?
In his lifetime, Byron was notorious for his love affairs and for flaunting the conventions of society in the name of art. Read some biographical material about him, then write a paper comparing him to someone who is in the news today.
(The entire section is 160 words.)
Learning Corp. of America has a video, released in 1971, entitled Romanticism: The Revolt of Spirit. It is a part of their “Shaping of the Western World” series, and examines the breadth of romanticism in music, art, and literature.
A video called The Bad Lord Byron examines the poet’s life through a mock trial. This 1949 feature film was released on videocassette in 1994 by Hollywood Select Video. It stars Dennis Price, Mai Zitterling, and Wilfred Hyde- White.
Byron: Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know is a documentary based on the poet’s correspondences with his publisher. It was released on videocassette in 1993 by Films for the Humanities and Sciences.
Monterrey Home Video’s 1993 title The Glorious Romantics: A Poetic Return to the Regency has actors playing Byron, Keats, Shelley, and others. It is part of the Public Broadcasting System’s “Anyone for Tennyson?” series.
“She Walks in Beauty” is included with other love poems on a compact disc from Naxos Audiobooks called A Lover’s Gift from Him to Her, released in 1999.
HarperCollins Audio Books released an unabridged selection of Lord Byron’s Poetry on audiocassette in 1999, read by Linus Roache.
Frederick Davidson reads Byron’s poetry on Lord Byron: Selected Poems, a two-cassette package released by Blackstone Audio Books in 1992.
“She Walks in Beauty” is...
(The entire section is 277 words.)
What Do I Read Next?
Oxford World’s Classics has an affordable, scholarly paperback edition of Byron’s poetry published under the title Lord Byron: The Major Works (2000).
Byron’s friend Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote an essay that captured the artistic theory of that whole age of romantic poets. Entitled “A Defence of Poetry,” the essay examines the various functions of reason and imagination in the poet’s work. It was originally published in 1821 and is reprinted at http://www.library.utoronto.ca/ utel/rp/criticism/shell_il.html (last accessed August, 2001).
Harvard University Press has collected the poet’s most important personal writings in the 1984 collection Lord Byron: Selected Letters and Journals, edited by Leslie A. Marchand.
One of the most influential recent books about romanticism is by influential critic Northrop Frye, whose short 1968 book A Study of English Romanticism gives an excellent quick background to the cultural movement that is almost always mentioned along with Keats’s name.
Fact and fiction are mixed together in Tom Holland’s imaginative 1998 novel Lord of the Dead: The Secret History of Byron. Lord Byron is presented as a vampire.
(The entire section is 183 words.)
Bibliography and Further Reading
Arnold, Matthew, Preface to Poetry of Byron, Macmillan, 1881, reprinted as “Byron,” in Essays in Criticism, Dutton, 1964, pp. 312–30.
Ashton, Thomas L., Byron’s “Hebrew Melodies,” University of Texas Press, 1972, p. 21.
Auden, W. H., “Don Juan,” in The Dyer & Other Essays, Random House, 1962, pp. 386–406.
Dick, William A., Byron and His Poetry, Haskell House Publishers, 1977, p. 81.
Frye, Northrop, “George Gordon, Lord Byron,” in Major British Writers, Vol. II, Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1959, pp. 152–53.
Jump, John D., Byron, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972.
Mankiewicz, Herman J., and Orson Welles, The Shooting Script: Citizen Kane, in The Citizen Kane Book, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1971, pp. 153–55.
Marchand, Leslie A., Byron: A Portrait, Alfred A. Knopf, 1970.
Martin, L. C., in Byron’s Lyrics, University of Nottingham, 1948, p. 25.
Read, Herbert, Byron, The British Council, 1951, p. 24.
Review of “Hebrew Melodies,” in Augustan Review, Volume 1, July, 1815, reprinted in The Romantics Reviewed, Contemporary Reviews of British Romantic Writers: Byron and Regency Society Poets, edited by Donald H. Reiman, Garland Publishing, 1972, pp. 57–60.
Shilstone, Frederick W., Byron and the Myth...
(The entire section is 419 words.)