“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.”
Byron proceeds to amplify his earlier suggestion that a perfect combination of “dark and bright” is the secret of his subject’s beauty. The second stanza of the poem begins with an explicit statement to this effect: either more or less light, he insists, would have at least to some degree “impair’d” her “grace.” At this point, the poet finally gives his readers a clue as to what may have triggered his response, for it appears that the lady does have “raven” hair. However, Byron does not have so specific an explanation for the brightness of “her face.” He does not seem to mean that she has a rosy complexion; instead, it is her “thoughts serenely sweet,” so evident in her facial expressions, that account for the impression she makes on all those who observe her.
In the final stanza, Byron continues to explore the relationship between inner and outer beauty. The blushes that appear on the lady’s “cheek,” her “smiles,” everything on her “brow,” or countenance, all reveal her sterling virtue. In the last lines of the poem, Byron sums up what he surmises: that the lady spends much of her time doing good deeds, that her “mind” harbors no animosity toward anyone, and that when love enters her heart, it is an “innocent” emotion. Byron’s description of a dark-haired lady thus becomes much more: It is also his definition of the ideal woman.