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She Walks in Beauty -- George Gordon, Lord Byron

       
(Poem #169) She Walks in Beauty
  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 the tender light
  Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

  One ray the more, one shade 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.
-- George Gordon, Lord Byron
Today's poem embodies both a lot of what I like, and a lot of what I dislike
about Byron. It starts off brilliantly; the first four lines are beautifully
phrased, and the opening couplet in particular has ingrained itself in the
collective consciousness, on a par with other famous openings like 'How do I
love thee? let me count the ways' and 'All the world's a stage'. Also in
evidence is the effortlessly perfect scansion that characterizes Byron's
work (see, especially, Don Juan[1], his undisputed masterpiece)

However, the latter two verses lose that quality of delicate beauty, and
degenerate into a somewhat lifeless portrayal of a somewhat insipid set of
traits. To be perfectly fair to Byron, it may just be that the poem has not
aged well, but phrases like 'how pure, how dear' tend to jar, and the whole
last verse has a 'pious' quality that borders on affectation.

[1] <http://www.geocities.com/~bblair/donjuan.htm>; dip into it at random to
get the feel of the verse

m.

Note:

  In 1815, Byron wrote a series of songs to be set to adaptations of
  traditional Jewish tunes by Isaac Nathan. She Walks in Beauty is the
  first of those songs.

  The woman described is the cousin of Byron's wife, Mrs. Robert John
  Wilmot. When Byron first saw her, she was wearing a black mourning gown
  with spangles.
        -- Bob Blair

Biography:

  Byron, George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron

   b. Jan. 22, 1788, London, Eng.
   d. April 19, 1824, Missolonghi, Greece

  byname LORD BYRON, English Romantic poet and satirist whose poetry and
  personality captured the imagination of Europe. Renowned as the "gloomy
  egoist" of his autobiographical poem Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1812-18)
  in the 19th century, he is now more generally esteemed for the satiric
  realism of Don Juan (1819-24).

        -- EB

  Lord Byron (1788-1824), as his title would indicate, was born into an
  aristocratic English family; even so, he led the life of a vagabond; a
  "haughty and aristocratic genius" subject only to his own ruling passions.
  He was born with a malformation of one foot, which left him with a life
  long limp; he grew up, however, to be a dark, handsome man; the women
  liked Byron and he liked women; his sexual exploits are legend. Byron
  spent most of his adult life on the continent, making his first trip in
  1809 with his school chum, John Hobhouse. Hobhouse returned to England
  leaving Bryon to go on to Greece by himself. During this eastern trip
  Bryon wrote the first two cantos of "Childe Harold," which tells the story
  of his tour. On his return to England he arranged for its publication and
  it "took the town by storm; seven editions were sold in a month." Byron
  tried to settle down into a regular aristocratic life, even to the point
  of getting himself married (it lasted but a few months); but none of it
  worked very well for Byron. By 1821, Byron was permanently living in Italy
  where he is part of a romantic literary circle, a circle which includes
  the Hunts; the Shelleys; and, of course, Trelawney. Byron was to get
  himself caught up with the war between the Greeks and the Turks, and, in
  1824, Byron embarked for Greece. Shortly, thereafter, at the age of 36,
  though likely not seeing any action, Byron dies at Missolonghi, Greece.

        -- Blupete (<www.blupete.com>)

  There's an extensive Byron site at
    <[broken link] http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Forum/9194/byron/bycover.html>

38 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Blacklaw Stuart (Curriculum & Program Development) said...

You've made an error in this poem. It should read: One shade the more,
one ray the less.

sb

Stuart T. Blacklaw

Dean of Curriculum and Program Development

Monroe Community College

1000 E. Henrietta Road

Rochester, NYphonefax

André Almeida Simões (Dr) (SIN) said...

One litthe correction: The poem is not dedicated to Byron's wife, once he was not married when he wrote it. It is dedicated to one of Byron's cousins, when seeing her at a party.

It is related (See L.A. Marchand "Portrait of a free man") that Byron came home quite "perturbed" by the sight of his cousin, ordered a glass of brandy, and wrote this poem on that night.

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