She Walks in Beauty Questions and Answers

Lord George Gordon Byron

Read real teacher answers to our most interesting She Walks in Beauty questions.

How does Byron's "She Walks in Beauty" inform our conceptions of romanticism, nature, inspiration, innocence, and beauty?

Seen as a love poem, Byron's "She Walks in Beauty" has complexities and intricacies that raise it above the level of a Romantic era love poem. Remembering that poetic punctuation indicates thought sequences, considering the poem through the tool of paraphrase helps to elucidate some of Byron's complex depth of meaning.

LINES 1 & 2

She walks in beauty, like the night
  Of cloudless climes and starry skies;

PROSE PARAPHRASE

She walks in beauty. She is like the night of Southern cloudless climates and star-covered skies.

The woman, Byron's mourning cousin by marriage, Mrs. Wilmot, who was out at a party Byron attended, does not walk in beauty like the night. Rather, she walks in beauty and is like the skies of Italy—cloudless and starry—where, for Romantic poets, the home and birthplace of beauty and art is. She presents an aura, a radiance, that calls up the warm, starry nights of the Italian heavens.

LINES 3 & 4

And all that’s best of dark and bright
  Meet in her aspect and her eyes;

PROSE PARAPHRASE

She is like the Italian night. All that is best of night's dark and night's starry light meet in her aspect and in her eyes.

"Aspect" is an intriguing word. It has three primary definitions. All of are significant to understanding Byron's poem.

Aspect:

  • (1) someone's countenance, facial expression, visage.
  • (2) someone's natural qualities or characteristics.
  • (3) astrology the position of a heavenly, celestial body in relation to another.

"Aspect" is the pivotal point holding human physical and spiritual realms together with the nonhuman realm of Nature.

LINES 5 & 6

... tender light
  Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

PROSE PARAPHRASE

The tender light of the stars is withheld by heaven from brightly glaring day.

LINES 7-10

One shade the more, one ray the less,
  Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
  Or softly lightens o’er her face;

PROSE PARAPHRASE

Had one shade more of dark been present or one ray less of light, the imbalance would have half way ruined the "nameless grace" that oscillates in her black hair or that gently illuminates her face. The question is: What is that "nameless grace"? We are hindered in understanding because he does not name it. Does he assume we know the "nameless grace"? Perhaps, or perhaps he names it later.

LINES 11 & 12

Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
  How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

PROSE PARAPHRASE

Her countenance reveals her thoughts. They are serenely sweet: pure, calm, peaceful, innocent. Her serenely sweet thoughts express how pure and dear is her mind, where her thoughts begin and dwell.

LINES 13-18

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
  So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
  But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
  A heart whose love is innocent!

PROSE PARAPHRASE

[The challenge here is to make sense of the introductory "And."]

AND the rays that softly lighten over her face fall on her cheek, on her brow--a brow so soft, so calm, so eloquent in expression--and on her smiles with tinted color that glows. The rays tell by each feature that her days are spent in goodness, that her mind is at peace with all on earth, and that she loves with a heart of innocence.

The rays, bear in mind, are not sun's rays. Rather they are the rays of a Southern night's starry skies. These starry rays softly illuminate each of her facial features. Her features in turn illuminate the aspect (someone's natural qualities or characteristics) of her heart and mind and virtue: calmness, eloquence, goodness, peace, love, and innocence.

THEME

The theme that emerges is the classically Romantic theme of the purity, inspiration, beauty and innocence in Nature. The woman of beauty complexly represents all of the following at once: Romanticism, Nature, Inspiration, Innocence, and Beauty.

Italy is the birthplace and home of the Romantic concepts of Beauty and Art, which are borne of Inspiration. It is Nature that provides Inspiration as a product of seeing and being unified with Nature's purity, innocence, goodness and beauty. In the first and second lines Byron ties the woman inextricably to Italy, then, through Italy, to Inspiration, then, through Inspiration, to Nature. Like the expressions of Nature, the woman's mind and thoughts are serene, sweet and pure. Like Nature, the woman has the virtuous aspect (natural qualities or characteristics) of goodness.

Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
  How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

But tell of days in goodness spent,

For Romantic poets, Nature is the seat of Inspiration and is all goodness and innocence. For the Romantics, the epitome of Beauty is that which lies in Nature. Nature seems to be the "nameless grace" of earlier. By joining the woman to Beauty through the early allusion to Italy and by joining her to Nature and Inspiration through the use of the complex word "aspect," Byron has reshaped a beauty at an evening party as the embodiment, the personification, of Romanticism.

A mind at peace with all below,
  A heart whose love is innocent!