How does Byron's "She Walks in Beauty" inform our conceptions of romanticism, nature, inspiration, innocence, and beauty?
Seen as a love poem, Byron's "She Walks in Beauty" has complexities and intricacies that raise it above the level of a Romantic era love poem. Remembering that poetic punctuation indicates thought sequences, considering the poem through the tool of paraphrase helps to elucidate some of Byron's complex depth of meaning.
LINES 1 & 2
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
She walks in beauty. She is like the night of Southern cloudless climates and star-covered skies.
The woman, Byron's mourning cousin by marriage, Mrs. Wilmot, who was out at a party Byron attended, does not walk in beauty like the night. Rather, she walks in beauty and is like the skies of Italy—cloudless and starry—where, for Romantic poets, the home and birthplace of beauty and art is. She presents an aura, a radiance, that calls up the warm, starry nights of the Italian heavens.
LINES 3 & 4
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
She is like the Italian night. All that is best of night's dark and night's starry light meet in her aspect and in her eyes.
"Aspect" is an intriguing word. It has three primary definitions. All of are significant to understanding Byron's poem.
- (1) someone's countenance, facial expression, visage.
- (2) someone's natural qualities or characteristics.
- (3) astrology the position of a heavenly, celestial body in relation to another.
"Aspect" is the pivotal point holding human physical and spiritual realms together with the nonhuman realm of Nature.
LINES 5 & 6
... tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
The tender light of the stars is withheld by heaven from brightly glaring day.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Had one shade more of dark been present or one ray less of light, the imbalance would have half way ruined the "nameless grace" that oscillates in her black hair or that gently illuminates her face. The question is: What is that "nameless grace"? We are hindered in understanding because he does not name it. Does he assume we know the "nameless grace"? Perhaps, or perhaps he names it later.
LINES 11 & 12
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
Her countenance reveals her thoughts. They are serenely sweet: pure, calm, peaceful, innocent. Her serenely sweet thoughts express how pure...
(The entire section contains 871 words.)
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