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Poem Of The Week: ‘She Walks In Beauty’ By Lord Byron
Steve Whitaker, Literary Correspondent
Portrait of Lord Byron by Thomas Phillips, c. 1813
A fitting poem for the season: St Valentine’s Day just around the corner, the merry-go-round of the card marketer and the Nigerian rose-grower, the saccharine ephemera which serves to engulf young lovers in a landslip of soft chocolate.

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 that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies. 

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.

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 context of Byron’s life, his liaisons dangereuses, somehow mirrors the delusory aspects of the annual confection of glass-entwined arms and soft-focus candles.

The melodramatic infidelity of this poet’s documented life is philosophically of a piece with our own sentimental and insubstantial approach to one more marketable date in the calendar.

Not that Byron is untouched by his lady of raven tresses, less still by the sweet honey of his own words. The vanity and easy inconstancy which propelled the dashing Lord with the club foot into the arms of several inamoratas throughout his brief adult life, need not undermine the sincerity of the words when uttered, or the brilliance of the poetic vehicle in which they are delivered.

And this is a poem of infatuated observation as flagrantly obsessive as a Shakespeare sonnet. In fact, it is hard to imagine that Byron was not fully cognizant of ‘In Praise of Beauty’ when he conceived these eloquent sestets.

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Both are prostrate before the idea of love, both in thrall to pious innocence, as though Dante’s Beatrice were the object of their adoration.

There is real elegance in Byron’s apprehension of the aesthetic ideal, real élan in his realisation of its power to move.

Here is a vision whose inner flame resides in a harmonious melding of light and shade, of a perfect blending of character and appearance which yields the beneficence of a ‘nameless grace’.

Nameless: without provenance, of mystical emergence – an angel by any other name. Yet there is a hint of darkness in Byron’s final lines.

The despoiling of an innocent heart seems, in some way, to be prefigured by the corrective exclamation mark which introduces a sense of inevitability, of exposure to bitter experience.

Will the angel succumb, in the end, to the poet’s own blandishments ?

Poem Of The Week: ‘She Walks In Beauty’ By Lord Byron, 10th February 2019, 14:00 PM