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Written by the famous Romantic poet Lord Byron, this poem has three stanzas of six lines each. The speaker in the poem describes an exceptionally beautiful woman. He uses many metaphors to liken her to all that is beautiful and pleasing to look at.
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 that tender light Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
The speaker begins by describing the beauty of an unnamed woman. He refers to her only by the pronoun ‘she’ as he says, “She walks in beauty”. This stanza makes use of the simile device to liken the beautiful lady to the night of cloudless climes and starry skies. Thus, the woman who is the subject of this poem is as beautiful as a clear night sky.
All the dark and bright hues of the night blend beautifully in her complexion. Thus, Nature seems to have blessed the woman with a perfect balance. She is neither too dark like the night, nor too light like the day. Instead, she radiates tender light, which is neither too harsh and nor too dull.
One shade the more, one ray 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.
The poet says that one shade the more, one ray the less would have made her appearance less captivating. He means that all the elements of beauty are bestowed upon this woman in just the right proportion. Even a slight difference would have impaired the nameless grace.
The speaker finds the sight of the raven tress, that is, a dark lock of hair lying on the woman’s face strikingly beautiful. He then shifts his attention to describe her inner beauty and serene thoughts that make her outward appearance all the more worthy of admiration.
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!
The poet is awestruck by the peace and innocence that mark the beauty of the woman. The inner goodness of her heart and a clarity of mind are reflected on that cheek, and o’er that brow. So, the woman is not only outwardly pretty but also possesses inner beauty. This perfect blend of light and dark, and of outward appearance and inward serenity make her worthy of the praise that the poet showers upon her.
Byron’s poem can be read as a love poem. It can also be understood as a simple poem written in the praise of a beautiful woman. The various similes and metaphors that compare her features to various elements of Nature show that Byron was a true romantic poet obsessed with the ideas of beauty and nature.