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.)
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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 of the poem is in keeping with its praise of tranquillity, its images stress movement and therefore the inevitability of change. Byron’s lady is not posing, but walking. She is shown in motion, her hair waving, her “eloquent” face expressive as she responds to the world around her and to her own thoughts—sometimes with smiles, sometimes with blushes. These small alterations imply that just as the stars will move in the night sky and night itself turn to day, the lady will change. Only in the poem will she remain forever lovely and innocent.