She Walks in Beauty Summary
"She Walks in Beauty" is a 1814 poem by Lord Byron about a woman of remarkable beauty.
- The speaker admires the balance of darkness and light in the woman, proclaiming that "one shade the more, one ray the less" would have marred her beauty. Instead, this perfect balance accentuates her "nameless grace."
- The speaker notes the woman's calmness and eloquence. She smiles happily, with a glow that speaks to her inherent goodness and beauty. She seems perfectly at peace.
Lord Byron composed the lyric poem “She Walks in Beauty” in 1814, and it was published in his 1815 verse volume Hebrew Melodies, which contained corresponding musical settings provided by the composer Isaac Nathan. Byron wrote “She Walks in Beauty” after meeting his cousin’s wife, Anne Beatrix Wilmot, whose beauty left an impression on the poet. The poem represents a relatively early stage of Byron’s career: in 1814, he had recently achieved a literary reputation, but most of his major writings lay ahead of him.
“She Walk in Beauty” describes a feminine subject who remains unnamed and unidentified. The opening line establishes that the subject is beautiful, and the speaker begins to develop a metaphor that compares her beauty to a night sky. The second line specifies that this figurative night sky is cloudless, clear, and full of stars. The importance of these features becomes evident in the third and fourth lines, which suggest that this contrast between darkness and light, evoked by the metaphor of the starry sky, characterizes the subject’s appearance, especially her eyes. The speaker clarifies that this contrast is entirely felicitous, referring to it as the “best of dark and bright.” In the fifth and sixth lines, the speaker ascribes to the subject’s beauty the calmness and serenity of starlight, which is absent during “gaudy day.”
In the second stanza, the speaker continues to discuss the subject’s appearance, specifically the features of her face and head. The first and second lines suggest that the aforementioned qualities of darkness and light are perfectly balanced in her visage: any additional “shade” or any fewers “ray[s]” would diminish or hamper her graceful beauty. The speaker cannot—or will not—fully account for this grace, calling it “nameless.” In the third line, this quality of grace is shown to be present in the subject’s hair, whose dark color is compared to the plumage of a “raven.” In the fourth line, this grace is shown to “softly lighten” across her face, a phrase that calls to mind the “tender light” of the first stanza. This pair of images in the third and fourth lines further accentuate the contrast between darkness and light, underscoring the harmonious way it arises in the subject. The fifth and sixth lines transition from the subject’s appearance to her mind. Her “serenely sweet” thoughts indicate the purity and goodness of “their dwelling-place”—that is, the subject herself. It is not clear whether these thoughts remain within the subject’s mind or whether they are “express[ed]” outwardly to the speaker.
The third stanza identifies more felicitous features of the subject’s face. The first line introduces a pair of prepositional phrases, drawing attention to the subject’s “cheek” and “brow.” The second and third lines describe the actions and attributes for which these features are notable: the winning “smiles” of the cheek and the glowing “tints” of the brow. These facial features and their attendant attributes are assigned a trio of appreciative adjectives: “soft,” “calm,” and “yet eloquent.” The use of “yet” intends to disconfirm any notion that the subject’s placid appearance—the mellowness and calmness evoked throughout the poem—signifies an obtuse or inarticulate character. The speaker reveals more about the subject’s character in the final three lines, discussing how her smiling, glowing appearance is the outward expression of her inner qualities. These qualities include her sense of morality, represented by her “days in goodness spent”; her serene mind, which is “at peace” with all things; and her “heart whose love is innocent.” The meaning of “love” is somewhat ambiguous in this case. The suggestion is either that the subject’s intentions are sound or that the manner in which she loves is innocent—that is, pure or perhaps naive.