To Love, or Not to Love: Lord Byron’s ‘She walks in beauty’?
Lord Byron’s ‘She Walks in Beauty’ was inspired by Mrs Wilmot, his cousin, Robert Wilmot’s wife. Byron’s glimpse of Mrs Wilmot, as well as the environment that surrounded them, contributed to the images of darkness in ‘She Walks in Beauty,’ from the mourning clothes she and others worn, correlating to themes of spiritual darkness which can be interpreted in the poem. Throughout, Lord Byron displays an unrealistic love, as he creates an idealistic image of her beauty that could be seen as incomparable. We can see that the speaker is physically attracted to the woman; however, we are not made aware of some of his deeper emotions, which are not directly described.
The speaker’s feelings are merely wistful than anything else as the main aspect described in this poem is the woman’s profound beauty; we know that her appearance is an important concept as her beauty is mentioned in the title. In the first stanza the woman is compared to the beauty of the night which can be seen as unconventional as beauty is usually compared to a summer’s day, the light of the sun, however Byron uses the dark of the night to emphasise the comparison ‘starry skies’ that she is as bright as the stars in the blackness of the night. We can also see that the speaker has treasured every detail of her exquisiteness as he even distinguishes the emotion behind her eyes as the ‘best of dark and bright’.
Byron’s use of juxtaposition with adjectives and similes can be seen as a perfect balance towards the woman’s beauty, and any alterations could ruin her perfection ‘dark and bright’ and ‘one shade the more, one ray the less’ are both in contrast from a shade to ray as well as more and less, yet again showing how balanced her beauty is. The speaker also portrays a sense of wonder, although it is not directly expressed in the poem we can interpret his comparisons with the woman and the natural world as him idolising her physical attributes; his perceptions of her can be seen as transcendental. His constant contradiction of adjectives can also be viewed as confusion is the speaker’s mind as he is trying to describe her overpowering attractiveness (in which he demonstrated to be beyond words).
In the third stanza, Byron uses her exterior beauty to highlight her interior beauty ‘The smiles that win, the tints that glow’ her smile and blushing can be seen as her inner innocence and goodness as well as showing that the woman is facially expressive of her emotions ‘eloquent’ which can also been seen as innocent. This can be seen as innocent as young children express their emotions through their facial features. Byron also links her smile with representing her inner goodness as it ‘tells of days in goodness spent’ reflecting that the woman has spent time doing good deeds.
The structure of the poem is iambic tetrameter, which allows the poem to flow smoothly; the consistent rhythm of the poem could also link to the consistent faultless perfection of the woman that is described throughout. Byron’s use of enjambment could portray the speaker’s impatience, as if the speaker doesn’t want to stop expressing his bewilderment to her beauty. Byron also uses alliteration and assonance, in the first stanza ‘cloudless climes’ and ‘starry skies’ as well as ending each line of this stanza with words with an ‘I’ sounding vowel; this allows the poem to sound smoother and flow into each other. The ‘I’ vowel can also be considered as a high sounding vowel, high sounding vowels can also be associated with light, elegant or sophisticated things, this gives the poem a pleasant tone.
A feminist could criticize this poem for its objectification towards the woman, as in each stanza he comments and focuses on different aspects of the woman’s physical attributes. However although the woman doesn’t speak in the poem, therefore her views can’t be expressed, Byron acknowledges that she has thoughts ‘where thoughts serenely sweet express’ showing that she is not an object and he cannot access her inner mind. A feminist might also be interested in the allusion of sexual purity presented in this poem as her ‘innocence’ can be linked to virginity; this could be seen as being subjective as women in the 1800’s were encouraged to keep their virginity until marriage to stay pure; however men were more inclined to spread their ‘wild oats’ (reference to Philip Larkin’s Wild Oats).
Overall, although the speaker is praising the woman physically, Byron’s poem doesn’t portray any feelings of love towards her. It is possible, therefore, that ‘love’ is not in fact presented in this poem. His feelings for the woman are more longings on the level of desire than romantic attachments.
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Lord Byron’s ‘She Walks in Beauty’ was inspired by Mrs Wilmot, his cousin, Robert Wilmot’s wife. Byron’s glimpse of Mrs Wilmot, as well as the environment that surrounded them, contributed […]