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'She Walks in Beauty' (1814) is a poem rich with symbols and complex in meaning. It features an idealized muse, and serves as a vehicle for the expression of deep sentiment and feeling which Romantic poetry is known for.
George Gordon Bryon or Lord Byron
Form / Style
Simile, personification, metaphor, tripling, alliteration, allusion, assonance, antithesis, lexical sets
Frequently noted imagery
Inner beauty and outer beauty, light and dark, nature.
Admiration and idealised love
Harmony, perfection, inner beauty, outer beauty, love at first sight
The ideal woman is both beautiful in appearance and in character.
Lord Byron was inspired to write ‘She Walks in Beauty’ (1814) after seeing Ann Beatrix Wilmot at a London party and being captivated by her beauty. The message of the poem can be interpreted as a statement on the nature of true beauty using this muse as an idealised model of perfection.
'She Walks in Beauty' (1814) is an example of Romantic poetry. This type of poetry is often characterized by its use of natural imagery, the expression of strong emotions, sensory descriptions, and the transcendental, all of which are present in this poem.
Throughout his life, Byron had infatuations in which he idealised the objects of his affections. For example, as a boy he was enamoured with his cousin Mary Chaworth. Similarly, he was infatuated with the beauty of Ann Wilmott, who was the inspiration for this poem. In 'She Walks in Beauty' (1814), the subject is admired as an example of perfection.
When analysing ‘She Walks in Beauty’ (1814), a poem whose subject is presented as perfect in both character and appearance, it is worth considering Lord Byron’s personal views on women’s morality.
While personally engaging in numerous affairs with married women and often living a debauched lifestyle, he had a high moral standard for the idealised woman. Byron sent his youngest daughter to be educated at a Roman Catholic convent, and considered her unmarried mother to be a bad influence. He expressed the wish that she would grow up to be a respectable married woman.
In ‘She Walks in Beauty’, he chooses words with religious connotations to describe the subject’s inner qualities such as 'pure' and 'innocent', which could be interpreted as free from the Christian concept of sin.
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
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:Where thoughts serenely sweet express,How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.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!
This poem draws upon the concept of physiognomy, wherein a person’s outward appearance reflects their personality and morality. The subject of the poem is presented as matching her outward beauty with inner goodness, creating a sense of harmony between mind and body. For example, in the final stanza, the poet describes the subject's calm appearance and pleasant smile, which hints at her sweet temperament, and a mind at peace.
The theme of perfection runs throughout this short lyrical poem, with its muse remaining an idealised object of affection. Consider how she is presented as equally aesthetically perfect and morally perfect.
“A heart whose love is innocent!”
“all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;”
“thoughts serenely sweet”
“the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress”
'She Walks in Beauty' (1814) is one of Lord Byron’s shortest poems. It consists of just three stanzas, which are each exactly six lines long (sestets). Note how each of the three stanzas are perfectly balanced in size, which reflects how the subject of the poem is presented as perfectly balanced in outward and inner beauty.
In his opening line, Byron compares the subject to the night: 'She walks in beauty, like the night / Of Cloudless climes and starry skies.' In doing so, he alludes to the opening line of Shakespeare’s famous sonnet 18 'Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?' However, in an original twist, he changes the comparison from day to night.
The content of the poem includes a wealth of Christian symbolism in its presentation of a woman who represents perfect inner and outer beauty. Similarly, the poem’s structure, consisting of three stanzas of equal length, could be interpreted as representing the Holy Trinity, three equally significant elements of God.
This poem is written in iambic tetrameter, which is a regular metric scheme. Its rhyme scheme is ABABAB, which is also highly regular.
An iambic foot is when an unstressed syllable is followed by a stressed syllable. An example of this is: destroy. When an iambic foot occurs four times in a line of poetry, it is called an iambic tetrameter.
Keeping in mind the importance of harmony in the poem, why do you think Lord Byron chose a highly regular rhyme and meter?
Helped by both the subject matter and the regularity of the meter and rhyme, the tone of the poem is calm, rational, and deeply romantic. It is also consistent in its praise of the subject; there is not a single criticism of her looks or imagined personality.
This tone helps to express the poet’s intensity of feeling towards the subject. The expression of intense emotions and feelings is a hallmark of Romantic poetry.
Lord Byron uses contrasting imagery of day and night throughout the poem relates to the woman’s physical attractiveness as a result of the balance of light and dark in her features, such as her dark hair and light skin. The contrasting imagery also reflects the harmony created by this balance of light and dark.
Byron uses the poetic devices of personification and metaphor in his poem.
Personification refers to attributing the qualities of a person to an object or being. For example: 'Death extended its cold hands towards her throat'. In this example, the 'cold hands' personify the abstract concept of Death.
A metaphor is the substitution of one thing for another to highlight the connection between the two. For example: The Queen has a heart of gold. In this example, the Queen does not quite literally have a heart of gold, it simply means that she is generous and kind, thus linking gold to being something precious and valuable.
In the final stanza, the poet gives human qualities to her cheek and her brow as they express calmness and a smile that 'wins,' thus highlighting the use of personification. Also, in lines 11 and 12, the poet suggests that the subject's thoughts 'dwell' in her mind, demonstrating the metaphor of how thoughts which dwell in the mind find expression on the face.
The language used in the poem is positive throughout, with the speaker describing his subject with words that have exclusively positive connotations. The appearance and personality of Byron's muse is described as 'serenely sweet' and as possessing a 'nameless grace'. His choice of words impresses upon the reader a sense of unparalleled admiration.
Among the words chosen to praise the muse, there is a lexical set of words associated with Christian spirituality such as 'goodness', 'serenely', 'pure, and 'innocent'. This symbolic language elevates the position of the subject of the poem further into the realm of angels and saints.
Consider how the poet uses a lexical set of physical features and a lexical set of moral characteristics to create a balance in his praise of both. In regard to the emotional impact of these word choices, this could help the reader to understand that the poet’s admiration for the subject of the poem is not simple lust or physical attraction.
Lexical set of physical features.
Lexical set of moral characteristics.
'A mind at peace'
'A heart whose love is innocent!'
'thoughts serenely sweet'
'days in goodness spent'
Furthermore, the poet refers to the balanced qualities of light and dark present in the woman’s appearance. This continues an extended link to the importance of harmony present in the poem.
'One shade the more, one ray the less,Had half impaired the nameless grace'.These lines illustrate the importance the poet places on harmony and balance for beauty. The subject of the poem has achieved the perfect balance of light and dark.
'A heart whose love is innocent!'Consider the effect of the exclamatory sentence mood here in expressing the depth of the poet’s emotion and convictions.
'Of cloudless climes and starry skies''Cloudless' could be interpreted in relation to both her appearance and character. No flaw of personality or physical blemish (such as a freckle, birthmark, or sunspot) hides or ruins her perfection.
'that tender light Which heaven to gaudy day denies.' This line further solidifies Lord Byron’s representation of his subject as possessing a transcendental, celestial beauty.
She Walks in Beauty’ (1814) is a short lyrical poem consisting of three stanzas of equal length.
Lord George Gordon Byron alludes to the comparison made in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18, but reverses it, comparing his subject to the night instead of the day.
‘She Walks in Beauty’ (1814) is an example of Romantic poetry, containing many of its key characteristics including the expression of intense emotion.
‘She Walks in Beauty’ reflects the physical and moral ideals of womanhood in early nineteenth-century England.
The message of ‘She Walks in Beauty’ (1814) is that true beauty is a perfectly balanced combination of outward beauty and inner goodness of character.
‘She Walks in Beauty’ (1814) was inspired by the beauty of Ann Beatrix Wilmot, who the poet saw at a London party.
This poem consists of three equally sized stanzas which are each exactly six lines long. It also features a consistent rhythm, following a ABABAB rhyme scheme. The regularity of the structure is very interesting, because it could be interpreted as reflecting the balance between the subject’s inner and outer beauty.
An idealised form of love and admiration is presented in ‘She Walks in Beauty’ (1814). The subject is held up as outwardly beautiful and inwardly good.
The poet’s word choices add to its intense tone of admiration and wonder. Lord Byron chose to use words with positive connotations of harmony, beauty and perfection.
Who is the subject of the poem based on?
Ann Beatrix Wilmot.
What contrasting imagery does the poet use throughout the poem?
Light and dark.
What is the metric scheme of ‘She Walks in Beauty?
'She Walks in Beauty' (1814) can be set to music.
Which of the following best describes the style of poetry that ‘She Walks in Beauty’ (1814) fits into?
Which of the following is NOT a key theme of ‘She Walks in Beauty’ (1814).
Which poetic devices does Lord Byron use in the following lines? “She walks in beauty, like the night Of cloudless climes and starry skies”.
Allusion, alliteration and simile.
Which of the following best describes the rhyme and meter of the poem?
How many stanzas does the poem consist of?
Which poem does Lord Byron allude to with the lines “She walks in beauty, like the night Of cloudless climes and starry skies”.
William Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnet 18’.
Which of the following groups of words have connotations of Christian spirituality?
Grace, innocence and pure.
Which of the following is NOT a characteristic of Romantic poetry?
Each stanza in ‘She Walks in Beauty’ (1814) is six lines long.
The poem expresses which strong emotions?
Awe and admiration.
The subject of the poem is explicitly named.
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