She Walks in Beauty Summary
The poem is about an unnamed woman. She's really quite striking, and the speaker compares her to lots of beautiful, but dark, things, like "night" and "starry skies." The second stanza continues to use the contrast between light and dark, day and night, to describe her beauty. We also learn that her face is really "pure" and "sweet." The third stanza wraps it all up – she's not just beautiful, she's "good" and "innocent," to boot.
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
- An unnamed woman "walks in beauty." This is an odd way of saying that she's beautiful, isn't it? "Walk[ing] in beauty" makes her beauty seem more dynamic – as though it's partly her movement and the spring in her step that make her beautiful. She's not just a pretty face in a portrait; it's the whole living, breathing, "walk[ing]" woman that's beautiful.
- Her beauty is compared to "night." This seems strange – night is dark, right? Aren't beautiful women usually compared to "a summer's day"? (That would be Shakespeare's Sonnet 18, in case you were wondering).
- But the featured woman isn't just compared to any "night," she's compared to a night in a place where there are no clouds and lots of stars. We suppose that means she has a very clear and lovely complexion? Or perhaps being "cloudless" has more to do with her personality – her conscience might be as clear as a "cloudless" sky.
- You see "starry skies" at night, but the brightness of the stars relieves the darkness of the night. This is the first hint of a contrast between light and dark in the poem.
- There's some pretty sweet alliteration in these lines. You might want to head over to the "Symbols" section for more on that before moving forward.
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
- The contrast between light and dark that was first brought up by the "starry skies" in line 2 is repeated and developed in line 3.
- Everything that is great about both "dark" and "bright" come together in this woman. Essentially, she's got the best of both.
- Her "aspect" can mean both her facial expression and her overall appearance.
- So her whole appearance and especially her "eyes" create some kind of harmony between "dark" and "bright."
- If this seems weird to you, think of a really beautiful person who has dark eyes that always seem to sparkle – or someone whose eye color contrasts with his or her hair color in an attractive way. That's what Byron's talking about – contrast that creates beauty and harmony.
- Byron's setting up a binary, or opposition, between "bright" and "dark," but it's important to realize that neither is considered better or worse than the other. Both have aspects that are "best."
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
- Everything that's great about both "dark and bright" (line 3) is "mellow'd," or toned down to something that's more "tender" and less intense than the light you get during the day.
- Since Byron has been talking about night, try thinking about starlight or moonlight – that would be a "tender light" that is less "gaudy," or bright and blinding, than the light you get during the day.
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;
- The balance between "shade" and light in the lady's beauty is so perfect that if you added one more "shade," or took away a single "ray" of light, you'd mess everything up.
- Fiddling with that balance at all would "half impair," or partially damage, the woman's beauty.
- Her beauty and "grace" are so hard to define that they're "nameless." The poet can't quite put his finger on what makes her so "grace[ful]," but he'll give it a try. After all, that's what the poem is doing – attempting to put sentiments into words.
- This "nameless grace" is visible in every lock of her black hair ("every raven tress") and it "lightens" her face.
- Look – more about the contrast of light and dark. The balance between light and dark that creates her "nameless grace" is apparent in both her dark hair and in the expression that "lightens" her face.
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling place.
- The expression on the woman's face shows how "serenely sweet" her "thoughts" are.
- Her "sweet" expression, the speaker reasons, is an accurate reflection of what's going on inside her mind, which is the "dwelling place" of her thoughts.
- Here we have another binary, or set of contrasts, to keep track of: her exterior expression, and her interior thoughts.
- The "sweet[ness]" of this lady's expression suggests that her mind is "pure" and innocent.
- "Dear," in this context (and in British English generally), means both precious and valuable.
And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
- The woman's smiles and her healthy blushes ("tints") that "glow" on her "cheek" and "brow" are serene and "calm." ("Brow" is just a poetic way of saying forehead.)
- In other words, she's quiet and rather elegant – she doesn't joke and laugh a lot; she seems to be more of the lovely and regal type.
- But even though she's quiet and "calm," her "smiles" and blushes are "eloquent" Her face is very expressive, even if she doesn't say much out loud.
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!
- But what, exactly, do those "smiles" express? We're so glad you asked: Byron tells us that they reflect all the time that the woman has spent doing good deeds.
- She's certainly not just a pretty face – she's also kind and good, which is why she's able to look so "calm" and serene: her conscience is at rest.
- The woman's serenity and "smiles" also reflect the calmness of her mind. Because she's a good person, her "mind" is at "peace with all below" (everyone on earth).
- Not only that, but her "love is innocent." This could mean that she's not in love with anyone, or it could mean that she is, but that her love is pure and "innocent" – in other words, that it's not a sexual love.