Monday, January 9, 2012

Poetry: Lord Byron - She Walks In Beauty

She Walks In Beauty - Lord Byron

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 mellow'd 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
A heart whose love is innocent!

This is still one of my favourite poems ever written. Unlike most of Byron's work it is actually short and quite simple in tone and wording, but I think this was the exact effect that was intended. It's said that Byron wrote this after meeting his cousin's wife, and being inspired by her beauty wrote this poem. Other sources say that it was written about Augusta, his half sister (like many of his poems), and yet other sources say it alludes to the beauty of Art in general. After spending so many years studying 19th and 20th century literature and pulling apart poems until you could find any meaning to them that would make sense if backed up with the right arguments, I just like to read poetry and let the words give me the meaning they want to give me.

This poem was published as part of the volume of poems called Hebrew Melodies in 1815, and each poem was set to music. When read out loud you can almost hear the melody that goes with it (or maybe that's just me). In any case, whenever I feel agitated or upset I read this poem and immediately feel calmer. Serene beauty, inspiration, music and the calm sound of the ocean (the ocean is not mentioned but serenity and the ocean go hand in hand for me, and if you want to know why you should just ask me).

Here's a lovely recording of Eric Portman reading She Walks In Beauty:

I still have a teenage crush on Byron... What girl doesn't?!

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