(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.
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, 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.  <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>