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She Walks in Beauty by Byron: Analysis, Theme & Interpretation

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Instructor: Ben Nickol

This lesson takes a close, interpretive look at 'She Walks in Beauty,' one of the better-known poems by Romantic poet Lord Byron. Specifically, the lesson will examine how this poem embraces Romantic ideals.

We also recommend watching Byron's Don Juan: Summary, Quotes and Analysis and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Themes and Analysis

About Byron

George Gordon Byron, better known as Lord Byron (1788-1824), was an English poet of the Romantic period. As a Romantic, he embraced the power of the heart over the power of the mind. As a result, much of his work shows an admiration for the natural world, and expresses a desire to move closer to that world, which Romantics associated with human purity, or innocence.

Our analysis of 'She Walks in Beauty,' one of Byron's more famous works, will focus on the ways the poem embraces Byron's Romantic ideals.

Analysis and Interpretation

She Walks in Beauty

by Lord Byron

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!

Stanza One

In the first stanza of the poem, we're introduced to the woman the speaker is writing about, and are given a description of the ways she's beautiful. The poem itself is an extended description of that beauty (a common Romantic practice), but it is in this first stanza that we're given the terms of her beauty. Just what is it about this woman that has moved the speaker to write about her?

First, let's look at the imagery the speaker associates her with. In the first two lines, we learn that she '?walks in beauty, like the night / Of cloudless climes and starry skies?' That she's associated with a night sky is significant. For Romantics, the measure of a thing's beauty is its nearness to nature. She certainly is near it - she even, as the speaker tells us, has its same way of walking.

As the stanza continues, we see it goes further than that, though. Not only is the woman near nature, but 'all that's best of [night's] dark and bright / meet in her aspect and her eyes?' In other words, nature is part of her. She is the place where nature's beautiful features meet and are fused. Furthermore, the stanza closes with the declaration that the mixture of beauty in her eyes in fact attains a level of beauty higher than that which nature bestows on 'gaudy day.' For a Romantic, this is high praise indeed. The speaker has told us that this woman's beauty exceeds that of nature.

Stanza Two

In the second stanza, the speaker extends the beauty 'argument' he's set up in the first. Not only are the woman's features a beautiful mixture of natural elements, they in fact have attained some perfect, delicate balance that the slightest adjustment would upset. He writes, 'One shade the more [or] one ray the less' and her grace would be 'impaired.'

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