She Walks in Beauty by Lord Byron
Table of Contents
Lord Byron is a Romantic puzzle. When the posts of England were borne away on the high tide of romanticism, Byron came forward as the dauntless champion of neo classicism. He admired Pope and disparaged Wordsworth and Coleridge whom the romantics held in high esteem. Byron is mainly concerned with the present. He deals with mundane realities–real persons, real scenes and real happenings. This realism is a survival of the Augustan poetic tradition. Like Augustan writers, Byron’s genius is essentially satiric. His main works are devastating satires upon every sort of evil-effete and harmful social usages, cant, wickedness and cruelties of man, hypocrisies of conventional morality and debauchery and deceit of women. His motive is, like that of Pope, mainly personal.
Though Byron is anti-romantic, he often deals with themes and ideals which meant much to the Romantics. Like other Romantic poets he has deep and genuine love of Nature, and is a staunch champion of liberty. He is also the egoist of all egoists like Wordsworth. He is himself the beginning, the middle and the end of all his poems.
Byron is often noisy and declamatory rather than poetical. He is at times guilty of pose. But despite these faults he has amazing vitality and power, and in his most impassioned moods his verse rushes on like a torrent. He is at his best in description, especially when he blends description with meditation
The poem, She Walks in Beauty was written in 1814, on Mrs. Ann Beatrix Horton, the wife of Byron’s second cousin (Sir R. G. Wilmot Horton, once the Governor of Ceylon). She appeared at a ball in mourning but with spangles on her dress. This is the first of Byron’s Hebrew Melodies published in 1815.
She Walks in Beauty Summary
Byron describes the superb beauty of Mrs. Horton, wife of his cousin. She looks lovely as she walks in her (dark) mourning dress with bright spangles (tiny pieces of shining metal used for decoration on a dress) on it. She appears as beautiful as the dark nocturnal cloudless sky studded with bright stars. There is a blend of dark and brightness in her appearance and eyes. The combination of dark and brightness gives her appearance that subdued radiance of a star-lit night which is not to be found in the dazzling light of the bright day.
Light and shade are well proportioned in her appearance. If her hair had been little darker and her face a little brighter, her suburb charm would have been half lost. The indescribable beauty of the soft glow spread over her face gives it a serene expression which reveals the sweetness and purity of her soul.
Her cheek and brow are very soft and calm. They are the expression of her inward goodness. Her charming smiles and the bright colour of her cheeks indicate that she has lived a virtuous life in the past. Her beauty of form is the index of her peace of mind and innocent love.
She Walks in Beauty Line by Line Explanation
She: Mrs. Ann Beatrix Horton, wife of Byron’s second cousin who was once Governor of Ceylon,
walks in beauty: looks beautiful as she walks in mourning with spangles on her dress.
climes: (usually plural) countries.
cloudless climes: countries free from clouds, such as Italy, Spain etc. Mrs. Horton’s black (mourning) dress is compared to the dark night-sky, and the spangles (tiny pieces of shining metal used for decoration on a dress) on it to stars. Like Shelley’s Night her dress is ‘star-in-wrought’.
Note: Usually the sky when singular, but a sky or skies (plural) when modified by an adjective, meet: is found combined, aspect: appearance. Meet…..eyes: The best of dark and bright is to be seen in the appearance and eyes of the lady, mellow’d – toned down/softened, tender light: soft, soothing light/subdued radiance of a star-lit night, which heaven….denies – the subdued radiance of a star-lit night is not to be seen in the dazzling sunlight
One shade the more: a little more of dark (in her hair). one ray the less: a little less of brightness (on her face). Had: would have impair’d: spoilt. nameless grace: beauty that beggars description, which waves, which is to be seen, in every raven tress: in every black wavy lock of her hair. raven: black, tress: look of a person’s hair. softly lightens o’er her face: (nameless grace) spreads a soft glow over her face, where thoughts….express: the serene expression on her face reveals, express: reveals. How pure…..place: how pure the mind is, their dwelling place: the mind where thoughts dwell.
brow: forehead. eloquent: expressive (of her goodness). The smiles that win: her charming smiles, tints that glow: bright colour on her cheeks. But tell…spent: only indicates that she has lived a virtuous life in the past. A mind at peace; a contented mind, below: on earth, innocent: pure.
N.B. The romantic poets share the Platonic idea that beauty of mind is reflected in the beauty of form. They were obsessed with the idea that it is the spirit that gives shape to the body.
“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.”
In these lines from She Walks in Beauty Byron describes the beautiful appearance of Mrs. Ann Beatrix Horton, wife of Byron’s second cousin. She is in mourning dress. She looks as beautiful as the dark night in countries where the sky is free of clouds and stars shine all over it. But all is not black in her. Her dress and hair are black, but her face and eyes are bright. Her appearance combines all that is best of dark and brightness. This combination gives her appearance that subdued radiance of a star-lit night which is not to be found in the dazzling sunlight. There is nothing garish or glorious in her dress or appearance. She is naturally beautiful. The mourning dress adds a soft, sober glow to her beauty.
The stanza speaks of the poet’s sense of rapturous wonderment at the calm quiet beauty of the lady. It is remarkable for the use of the contrasted images of tender (Star) light and gaudy day (light). The contrast serves to bring out the sedate, soft beauty of the woman.
“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.”
These lines are from Byron’s She Walks in Beauty, Here the poet describes the physical and moral grace of Mrs. Horton. The combination of all that’s best of “dark and bright” in her appearance made her a superb beauty Had her black hair been darker even by a single shade the indescribable beauty of her wavy locks of hair would have been half-spoilt. On the other hand, if her face had been less bright, even very slightly, she would have been less charming than she was. A soft glow that spread over her whole face not only added to her beautiful appearance, but also gave it a serene expression that reflected the sweetness and purity of her mind. So the slightest alteration in this perfect combination of light and shade would have spoilt her charm.
This stanza embodies the Platonic conception of beauty of mind that is reflected in the beauty of form. Byron shares this platonic idea with other romantic poets. Like them he too believes that the spirit gives shape to the body.