George Gordon, Lord Byron, 1788-1824 was known by Lady Caroline Lamb as “Mad, bad, and dangerous to know.” The fascination with Lord Byron’s personality made him the archetype for Romanticism. He entreated himself on a ceaseless round of sexual activity. He had liaisons with Lady Caroline Lamb and the “autumnal” Lady Oxford, both of which magnified his notoriety. However, it was Lord Byron’s relationship with his half-sister Augustu, while she was married, that tagged him as the ultimate philanderer.
The Romantics had four core values; equality, the untutored imagination could produce works as stirring as the mind of a trained visual artist; spontaneity, romantics admired the creative genius of the mind at play; simplicity, beautiful art should be direct and heartfelt, not artificial or overly embellished; individualism, self-definition and self-invention valued over conformity. During the Romantic period, poetry usually expressed emotional feelings, coupled with the lyrical components of a meter and a rhyming pattern.
Lord Byron, in 1814, wrote “She Walks in Beauty,” a lyrical poem written in third person omniscient. The poem has three stanzas of six lines each, and each stanza is a complete sentence. The meter pattern per line is four feet, and iambic―except for line five, which is three feet with two dactyl and one iambic meter, and line fifteen, which is four feet with one iamb, an anapest, and two iambs. The rhyming pattern for the poem is ABABAB / CDCDCD / EFEFEF.
The first stanza is regarding how she walks in beauty, and the varying manners in which she walks. However, walking is a synonym for living. The time is indicated as the night. She is compared to “cloudless climes,” and the “starry” sky (2). The limits of her walking are defined by that which is “best of dark and bright” (3). The limitless between dark and bright demonstrates the depth and magnitude of the romantic feelings. Her eyes are defined as “mellow’d to the “light” (5), which may mean she is relaxed and her eyes are dimming. Her eyes are extravagant, they are such that not even “Heaven” can deny. The words in line five are highlighted by a change in meter: “Meets in her aspect and her eyes.” In this manner, her aspect is her sexual body, and her eyes are the window to her soul. In this manner, her sexual self meets her soul, and they are one.
The second stanza is regarding her hair or “raven tress” (9), which is a perfect “shade” (7). Her hair is signified by the word “tress” (9) and the perfect shade of her hair is signified by “raven” (9). Her hair flows in a manner of “nameless grace” (7), and it flows in “waves” (9). Her sweetness is described as “soft” and light (10), and is “serenely” or calmly expressed. The sweetness describes a taste, of which is “pure” and “dear” (12). In this manner, the flavor being described maybe her sexual self. This stanza erotically describes the vaginal area of the woman, which includes her hair, her color, her feeling, and her sweetness, or stated in another manner, it may be considered to be the totality of sexuality as it relates to womanhood. The “dwelling-place” is a place perhaps a man’s sexual organ would like to dwell into for a period of time in something that looks much like a well. In this manner, he may put his sexual organ inside the sexual organ of a woman, which may appear similar to a well.
The third stanza is regarding the morning after when her cheeks and her “brow” (13), which are “so soft, so calm, yet eloquent” (14), do glow. Her eyes, her hair, her face, and her smile are described as “tints that glow” (15). The morning after a sexual encounter, tells of “days in goodness spent” (16), which means it is good to spend time having a sexual encounter, and in the morning light, the woman glows. After such an encounter, “a mind” is at peace with all that lies “below” (17). Regarding this line―”heart whose love is innocent” (18), does this mean if you do not have sexual encounters your love is not innocent? The words in line fifteen are highlighted by the change in meter: “The smiles that win” (15), which indicates that after a sexual interlude the individuals both win with satisfaction. Significantly, the poem ends with an expression of innocence rather than one of guilt, and it echoes a previous line: sexuality is something that not even “Heaven” can deny (6). It may follow that the Byron intends the reader to accept sexuality as being something, which is innocent.
This poem touches on the Romantics four core values; equality for the sexuality of a woman, where the imagination produces such a guiltless attitude for sexuality. He defends his position by describing her walk, her eyes, her hair, her face, her sexual “dwelling-place” (12), her cheeks and her brow, her smile and her teeth. In this manner, Lord Byron stirs the imagination, and presents a play of the mind in it’s the simplicity and exaltation of sexuality. He stirs the mind of the reader through his beautiful description of his heartfelt desire for sexuality. In this manner, he presents the woman and her sexuality as an individual. He defines her sexuality as beautiful, and presents sexuality as self expression rather than conformity.
In this poem, Lord Byron expresses his feelings for sexuality without religious connotations of wickedness, but rather feeling of innocent euphoria. This poem is an argument for sexuality without the restrictions of conformity. From this point of view, it is not hard to imagine why Lord Byron is attributed to having sexual encounters with more than one thousand different women. Perhaps, this poem was part of his pick up line . . . a line of course of guiltless pleasure.
“She Walks in Beauty”
By Lord Byron
- (1) She walks in beauty, like the night
- (2) Of cloudless climes and starry skies
- (3) And all that’s beast of dark and bright
- (4) Meets in her aspect and her eyes;
- (5) Thus mellow’d to that tender light
- (6) Which Heaven to gaudy day denies.
- (7) One shade the more, one ray the less,
- (8) Had half impair’d the nameless grace
- (9) Which waves in every raven tress
- (10) Of softly lightens o’er face,
- (11) Where thought serenely sweet express
- (12) How pure, how dear their dwelling place.
- (13) And on that cheek and o’er that brow
- (14) So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
- (15) The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
- (16) But tell of days in goodness spent,―
- (17) A mind at peace with all below,
- (18) A heart whose love is innocent.