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!
The poem “She Walks in Beauty”, written by George Gordon Byron in 1813, is a part of the “Hebrew Melodies” cycle. It reflects Byron’s admiration at the sight of a lady in black he saw while at a bal.
The lady was the wife of his distant relative Horton. Missis Horton was a model wife, and at that moment she was wearing a mourning dress, so she hardly had the intention of striking someone’s imagination. Yet, her unusual beauty became such a powerful stimulus for the poet, that it gave rise to one of the most famous poems he had ever created.
The romantic tension of the verse is close to euphoria, and even the mourning dress adds to the lady’s charm. Her black clothes are compared with the captivating attractiveness of the night. The speaker describes the fascinating beauty in the following way: “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”.
The wonderful vision represents the author’s idea of a perfect woman, whose beautiful appearance is complemented by inner goodness. This is what a real lady, in Byron’s view, should be: mysterious and reserved. A slightest shift toward more attractive and bright clothing would ruin the harmony. This harmony, which Lord Byron secretly dreams of, is often discussed in his poems. And he always comes to one and the same conclusion that the harmonious outward appearance is the result of the inner peace.
We can definitely feel the poet’s sense of romantic longing, but this is hardly a physical desire. It is more likely that the author longs for the inner peace and understands that he cannot achieve it. It is quite obvious, taking into consideration Lord Byron’s way of life, which was full of emotional commotions, – the way of life he could not (and hardly wanted to) change.
In addition to feelings and emotions, the poem contains a Biblical allusion. It is not as straightforward as in other verses of this cycle, but still quite obvious. A woman who creates a happy life for her husband: «A mind at peace with all below, A heart whose love is innocent!».
Byron’s own wife was detached and deeply religious; she was close to Puritan beliefs. She did not approve even of her husband’s public work and never took the trouble to conceal it. Having given birth to their daughter, Lord Byron’s wife left him without explaining anything. The divorce damaged the poet’s public image. The poem is a romantic contrast to the harsh reality surrounding the author. His creative work offered him an escape from reality and granted him happiness.
Reviewed by Katerina Sidoruk