Lord Byron’s famous love-poem “She Walks in Beauty” (1815) is well known for its memorable lines and romantic imagery. The poem features a theme that seems to unite the physical appearance of a woman with her inner virtues. The speaker of the poem celebrates the innocence and beauty of the woman in the poem in words that echo the poem’s theme of beauty and harmony . The poem’s use of poetic devices such as rhyme, images, and figurative language also mirror the poem’s theme of beauty and virtue. By examining these three elements of the poem, it can be demonstrated that Lord Byron was addressing the poem to a woman and also to the poetic “muse” simultaneously. Needer points out that “the poem’s nominal subject is the uncommon beauty of one particular lady, its real subject is something quite different:” (Needler, 2010, p. 19)The poem’s deeper theme is that the beauty and virtue of a woman and the ecstacy and pureness of poetic inspiration are analogous. Rather than simply describing the physical beauty and virtuous character of a woman, the poem is using a beautiful and virtuous woman to symbolize the nature of poetic inspiration.
The use of rhyme in the poem is meant to bring the reader into a sense of flowing harmony and order, which the reader is then supposed to instinctively feel is a apart of the woman being described. By simply looking at the rhyming words in the first stanza, Byron’s theme of beauty and poetic inspiration is evident. he rhymes “night” with “bright;” “skies” with “eyes” and “bright” with “light.” By placing an emphasis on these words, Byron coaxes the reader into associating the woman of the poem with nature. This same use of rhyme holds true through all three stanzas of the poem until it brings the most intense of all emphasis on “innocent,” the closing word of the poem. Rhyme is used in the poem by Byron not only to bring emphasis to important words and associations, but to create an harmonious rhythm.
The harmonious rhyme scheme is meant to evoke a sense of order and peacefulness that is also conveyed in the poem’s use of imagery. In the first stanza, as mentioned, nature imagery is used to convey the scope of the woman’s deep beauty and inspirational power. The use of imagery is, in fact, the most obvious way in which the “muse” theme of the poem can be traced. For example, in the first stanza, Byron compares the night sky with its stars to the beauty of the woman who si the subject of the poem. However, the imagery shifts directly to the lady’s eyes in the lines “And all that’s best of dark and bright / Meet in her aspect and her eyes:” (Byron, 1905, p. 216). The idea of “all that’s best” indicates that poem is celebrating not just physical beauty but moral virtue as well. This same idea is shown with the use of the imagery in lines 9-10. Byron writes of the “nameless grace/Which waves in every raven tress,/ Or softly lightens o’er her face;” (Byron, 1905, p. 216). The use of raven imagery is an extension of the opening images of night. The third stanza’s emphasis on the brightness of the woman’s cheek is like a “sunrise” amid the foregoing imagery of darkness: a progression of images that mirror the process of sudden inspiration or illumination. The woman in the poem is therefore the poet’s muse.
Finally, Byron’s use of figurative language make sit clear that the woman in the poem is both a real woman and poetry itself. In the first stanza he uses a simile to connect the woman with the mystery and beauty of night. In the following stanza, he compares the virtue of beauty of the lady of the poem to the moonlight and starlight as it pours through nature. In the second stanza he uses the idea of the woman’s face as an image which expresses the peaceful “dwelling place” of “sweet thoughts” (Byron, 1905, p. 216). This shows that Byron meant not only to indicate to the reader that the woman of the poem was physically attractive but that her beautiful appearance emanated from a goodness within. Byron’s use of rhyme, imagery, and figurative language in the poem clearly demonstrate his theme that poetic inspiration can be compared to the beauty of of morally virtuous woman.
Byron, G. G. (1905). The Complete Poetical Works of Lord Byron. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Needler, H. (2010). ‘She Walks in Beauty’ and the Theory of the Sublime. The Byron Journal, 38(1), 19+.