Welcome to the land of symbols, imagery, and wordplay. Before you travel any further, please know that there may be some thorny academic terminology ahead. Never fear, Shmoop is here. Check out our "How to Read a Poem" section for a glossary of terms.
Night and Day, Dark and Light
The contrast between night and day, and dark and light, is the image that sets up the whole poem. But, as we point out in the "What's Up With the Title?" section, this contrast is a startling image: we're not used to comparing beautiful women to "night," we're used to comparing them to "summer's days," like in Shakespeare's Sonnet 18. But Byron turns that convention on its ear, and suggests that it's the harmony of two contrasting opposites, like night and day, or light and dark, that make something (or someone) really beautiful.
- Line 1: This is where the basic simile of the whole poem is established: the beauty of the woman is "like the night."
- Line 2: There isn't any punctuation on the end of the first line so, as you're reading, you should be sure not to pause there. Places where the sentence spills over onto the next line, instead of ending or pausing at the line break, are called enjambments. Check out the alliteration in this line – the repeated cl sounds in "cloudless climes" are very musical, and the repeated s sound, or sibilance, is rather soothing.
- Line 5: "Tender light" is an odd expression, isn't it? "Tender" describes a tactile sensation, while "light" is something you see. Mixing up the senses like this is called synesthesia. It's as though the woman's beauty is so overwhelming that the poet's senses short-circuit, and he feels things he usually sees.
- Line 6: "Heaven" is personified in this line – after all, the sky can't really "deny" anyone anything, so the poet is giving it attributes of a human being.
Innocent Love and Serenity
The speaker never says that he's in love with the woman he describes, but you might very well suspect that he has the hots for her – after all, he goes on and on about how gorgeous she is. But the final line of the poem seems to be an attempt to dispel the reader's suspicions: he insists that her "love," at least, is "innocent." He describes her personality almost as much as her exterior beauty, by the end.
- Line 11: The sibilance, or repeated s sound, in this line ("thoughts serenely sweet express") create the kind of smooth, soothing, "serene" feeling that the line describes.
- Line 12: Byron uses a metaphor to describe the woman's mind: he says that it is the "dwelling place" of her thoughts.
- Line 18: It's a common poetic convention – almost a cliché – to talk about a person's "heart" feeling a certain way. But if you think about it, it's also a synecdoche: the "heart" is only a part of the whole person, and a synecdoche is when you substitute a part for the whole.
It's important to note that the beautiful woman is a brunette. What's so special about that, you ask? Well, in Byron's day, conventional English beauties were all pale and blonde. So for him to write a poem that not only praises the beauty of a woman with "raven" (black) hair, but even goes so far as to say that real beauty requires a contrast of light and dark, or day and night, was pretty startling.
- Line 7: This line points out that the woman's beauty is a perfect balance of light and dark – if she were any darker ("one shade the more"), the harmony would get messed up. The line itself is perfectly balanced between opposites: "shade" and "ray," "more" and "less." But if you think about it, the two halves of the line say the same thing: "one shade the more" means, "if she were any darker." But "one ray the less" also means, "if she were any darker." It's like saying, "heads I win, tails you lose" – it sounds like you're saying two opposite things but, really, the meaning of both is the same.
- Line 9: We're so used to hearing dark hair described as "raven" that it's almost a cliché, but it's actually a metaphor.
Smiles and Blushes
The poet keeps emphasizing that the nameless beauty isn't just a pretty face – her exterior beauty is a reflection of her interior goodness. He keeps remarking on both her smiles and her blushes, which, after all, are half-unconscious external responses to internal moods or feelings. So there's yet another binary, or set of opposites, to keep track of in this poem – the woman's inside and outside traits.
- Line 11: The poet personifies the woman's thoughts by saying that they "express" things in her face.
- Lines 14-15: The woman's "smiles" and the "tints" or blushes in her cheeks are personified when the poet describes them as "eloquent."
- Line 16: The smiles and blushes are personified a final time when they "tell of" all the time the woman has spent doing good deeds.