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Lord Byron’s “She Walks in Beauty” was written long before Freud developed his theory of psychoanalysis; however, it is possible to attribute some of Byron’s lines to a possible reference to the unconscious.
The first stanza mentions the opposites of “dark” and “light”:
She walks in beauty, like then night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
It seems evident from the rest of the poem that Byron is not simply talking about light and the absence of light when he uses the words “dark” and “light.” He is talking about the bringing together of opposites in the form of a person, in this case the female subject of his poem. In this sense the “dark” could be the unknown aspect of the woman, as in her subconscious. Psychoanalysis is concerned with the relationship between the conscious and subconscious. In many cases there are, according to psychoanalytic theory, conflicts between the two.
The poem’s subject, however, does not experience this conflict. The last two lines say:
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!
Her mind is at peace. In other words there is no friction between her conscious and subconscious, because she is perfectly balanced.
Lord Byron, of course, is not thinking in those precise terms, since the theory had not yet been formulated. He is, however, trying to describe a person who is at peace, as in the following lines:
One shade more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
She is her true self, in a state of equilibrium. If she were any different, she would not possess that “nameless grace.” Her conscious and her subconscious fit together in a healthy and unusually peaceful way.
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