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“She Walks in Beauty”
In June, 1814, several months before he met and married his first wife, Anna Milbanke, Lord Byron attended a party at Lady Sitwell’s. While at party, Lord Byron was inspired by sight of his cousin, beautiful Mrs. Wilmot, who was wearing a black spangled mourning dress. Lord Byron was struck by his cousin’s dark hair and fair face, mingling of various lights and shades. This became essence of his poem about her.
According to his friend, James W. Webster, “I did take him to Lady Sitwell’s party in Seymour Road. He there for first time saw his cousin, 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 one 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 Night…”
The poem was published in 1815. Also in that year Lord Byron wrote a number of songs to be set to traditional Jewish tunes by Isaac Nathan. Lord Byron included “She Walks in Beauty” with those poems.
She Walks in Beauty
She walks in beauty, like night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow'd to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade more, one ray less,
Had half impair'd 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, tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!
Discussion of Poem
The first couple of lines can be confusing if not read properly. Too often readers stop at end of first line where there is no punctuation. This is an enjambed line, meaning that it continues without pause onto second line. That she walks in beauty like night may not make sense as night represents darkness. However, as line continues, night is a cloudless one with bright stars to create a beautiful mellow glow. The first two lines bring together opposing qualities of darkness and light that are at play throughout three verses.
The remaining lines of first verse employ another set of enjambed lines that tell us that her face and eyes combine all that’s best of dark and bright. No mention is made here or elsewhere in poem of any other physical features of lady. The focus of vision is upon details of lady’s face and eyes which reflect mellowed and tender light. She has a remarkable quality of being able to contain opposites of dark and bright.
The third and fourth lines are not only enjambed, but fourth line begins with an irregularity in meter called a metrical substitution. The fourth line starts with an accented syllable followed by an unaccented one, rather than iambic meter of other lines, an unaccented syllable followed by an accented one. The result is that word “Meet” receives attention, an emphasis. The lady’s unique feature is that opposites “meet” in her in a wonderful way.
The second verse tells us that glow of lady’s face is nearly perfect. The shades and rays are in just right proportion, and because they are, lady possesses a nameless grace. This conveys romantic idea that her inner beauty is mirrored by her outer beauty. Her thoughts are serene and sweet. She is pure and dear.
The last verse is split between three lines of physical description and three lines that describe lady’s moral character. Here soft, calm glow reflects a life of peace and goodness. This is a repetition, an emphasis, of theme that lady’s physical beauty is a reflection of her inner beauty.
Lord Byron greatly admired his cousin’s serene qualities on that particular night and he has left us with an inspired poem.
The poem was written shortly before Lord Byron’s marriage to Anna Milbanke and published shortly after marriage.
Garry Gamber is a public school teacher and entrepreneur. He writes articles about real estate, politics, health and nutrition, and internet dating services. He is the owner of http://www.Anchorage-Homes.com and http://www.TheDatingAdvisor.com.