She Walks in Beauty Analysis

  • In the first line of "She Walks in Beauty," Lord Byron compares a woman's beauty to the night. He uses a simile to liken her beauty to that of "cloudless climes and starry skies," emphasizing the clarity and the brightness of her beauty.
  • "She Walks in Beauty" is a short poem consisting of three stanzas of six lines each. The stanzas are written in an ABABAB rhyme scheme, and the lines follow a regular rhythm: iambic tetrameter, which means that there are four "iambs" (or pairs of one stressed and one unstressed syllable) in every line.
  • Byron uses light and dark imagery in "She Walks in Beauty." He describes the woman's raven-colored hair and praises the balance of "dark and bright" that meets in her eyes. This interplay of light and dark enhances the woman's beauty, producing a "tender light" that softens her features and gives her a "nameless grace."

Analysis

“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.

Historical Context

Lord Byron is considered one of the most important and interesting poets of the romantic movement in England, and “She Walks in Beauty”...

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Forms and Devices

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.

Literary Style

The three six-line stanzas of this poem all follow the same rhyme scheme and the same metrical pattern. There are only six rhyming sounds in...

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Compare and Contrast

1815: The world’s political powers are in a state of change. The French army of Napoleon Bonaparte is defeated by the British at...

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Topics for Further Study

Can a person’s spiritual goodness make them physically beautiful? Give examples of qualities you feel would make a person beautiful and...

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Media Adaptations

Learning Corp. of America has a video, released in 1971, entitled Romanticism: The Revolt of Spirit. It is a part of their “Shaping...

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What Do I Read Next?

Oxford World’s Classics has an affordable, scholarly paperback edition of Byron’s poetry published under the title Lord Byron: The...

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Bibliography and Further Reading

Sources
Arnold, Matthew, Preface to Poetry of Byron, Macmillan, 1881, reprinted as “Byron,” in Essays in...

(The entire section is 419 words.)