Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 336

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.

Commentary

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Last Updated on March 9, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 502

“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.

Literary Style

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 262

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 this eighteen-line poem because the poem rhymes ababab, cdcdcd, efefef. The pairing of two rhyming sounds in each stanza works well because the poem concerns itself with the two forces—darkness and light—at work in the woman’s beauty, and also the two areas of her beauty—the internal and the external. The rhyming words themselves, especially in the first stanza, have importance: notice how “night” rhymes with its opposites, “light” and “bright,” in the same way that this woman contains the two opposing forces in her particular type of beauty. Oftentimes poets use their poetic structures to mirror what the poem’s chief concerns are. Poetic form—stanzas and meter—and content—what the poem’s subject is—are almost always related.

The meter is also very regular—iambic tetrameter. This means there are four—“tetra” is Greek for four—iambs per line. An iamb means that the line is divided into units, or feet, of two syllables, and each unit has an unaccented syllable followed by an accented syllable. This can be clearly seen if you look closely at the construction of a particular line:

She walks / in beau / ty like / the night.

This poem was included in Byron’s 1815 book, Hebrew Melodies, which included poems written to be set to adaptations of traditional Jewish tunes. This very regular iambic line is very suitable for being set to music because of its strong rhythm.

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