Poetry Analysis: Lord Byron's "She Walks in Beauty"
Lord Byron's "She Walks in Beauty" was first published in 1815 in Byron's collection Hebrew Melodies. His friend, James W. Webster asserts, "I did take him to Lady Sitwell's party in Seymour Road. He there for the first time saw his cousin, the beautiful Mrs. Wilmot. When we returned to his rooms in Albany, he said little, but desired Fletcher to give him a tumbler of brandy, which he drank at once to Mrs. Wilmot's health, then retired to rest, and was, I heard afterwards, in a sad state all night. The next day he wrote those charming lines upon her--She walks in Beauty like the Night..."The lady was dressed in a black dress with glittering sequins. Her beauty is her aura that holds on to her like a halo. An analysis reveals this is why she ‘walks’ in beauty. The phrase “walk in beauty” can also refer to her manner of walking that is extremely graceful.
The Embodiment of Extremes
It is like the cloudless sky filled with stars. The comparison may signify her ethereal beauty or the dress she had adorned. She combined “all the best of dark and light.”She seems to have combined the best extremes, the best of both worlds. Her eyes and attributes combine these aspects. The reference to eyes combining both-implies how it mingled both beauty and intelligence. The lady appears to be in mourning, and therefore the brightness in her eyes has mellowed to “that tender light.” The enjambment at the very first line presents how awe-struck the poet is. The continuation of the line without punctuation also signifies the continuity of the lady’s grace. The opening couplet is one of the most oft quoted lines in the whole corpus of English literature.
According to Uma Kukathas there is a contrast of light and dark in the poem can easily be a representation of what art is in its entirety; there are so many varying, contrasting parts of art and yet it all comes together to create something that is beautiful.She asserts that the contrast of light and dark is used to convey the soft beauty of the woman; the beauty is soft and pronounced but not overdone.
The line signifies that her ‘gaudiness’ was her own as it was to the day, an inherent aspect of her splendor. It seemed that day as though heaven (God) had deprived her of this trait.
"Which heaven to gaudy day denies."
Her heavenly glow was just right. A shade more or a ray less would have impaired her “nameless grace”. The phrase “nameless grace” explains how the poet is dumbfounded at the exquisite beauty. It may also imply that the reason for her grace was inexplicable. The elegance is even marked in her “raven tresses”‘, the luscious locks of her hair. Or it manifests itself in a subtle light that lightens over her face. Her thoughts both serene and sweet, exemplify how pure and endearing their “dwelling place”- the heart is.
In the Romantic age, a woman was judged by her beauty and more significantly by her character. Mrs.Wilmot’s spotless history was written all over her face:” on that cheek, and o'er that brow, ”It was subtle, yet it was eloquent. It exhibits “smiles that win, the tints that glow.”Her demeanour is the greatest proof for her virtuous past; the love of her heart is the most innocent.
Critics have been confused whether the poem in question is a tribute of love or is limited to a statement of his admiration.
Hacht, Anne M., ed. "Overview: 'She Walks in Beauty'" Poetry for Students. Vol. 14. Detroit: Gale Group, 2002. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. Aug.-Sept. 2010.
Kukathas, Uma. "Critical Essay on 'She Walks in Beauty'" Poetry for Students. Ed. Anne M. Hacht. Vol. 14. Detroit: Gale Group, 2002. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. Aug.-Sept. 2010.