She Walks in Beauty
Written in 1814, when Byron was twenty-six years old, and published in Hebrew Melodies in 1815, the poem of praise "She Walks in Beauty" was inspired by the poet's first sight of his young cousin by marriage, Anne Wilmot. According to literary historians, Byron's cousin wore a black gown that was brightened with spangles. This description helps the reader understand the origin of the poem, and its mixing together of images of darkness and light, but the poem itself cannot be reduced to its origins; its beauty lies in its powerful description not only of a woman's physical beauty, but also of her interior strengths. There is no mention in the poem of spangles or a gown, no images of a woman actually walking, because the poet is after something larger than mere physical description.
The first two lines bring together the opposing qualities of darkness and light that are at play throughout the three verses. The remaining lines of the first verse means her face and eyes combine all that's best of dark and bright. No mention is made here or elsewhere in the poem of any other physical features of the lady. The focus of the vision is upon the details of the lady's face and eyes which reflect the light. She has a good quality of being able to contain the opposites of dark and bright.
The second verse tells us that the glow of the lady's face is nearly perfect. The shades and rays are in just the right proportion, and because they are, the lady possesses a grace. This conveys the 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 the lady's moral character. Her soft, calm glow reflects a life of peace and goodness. This is a repetition, an emphasis, of the theme that the lady's physical beauty is a reflection of her inner beauty.
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