Wednesday, August 22, 2007

She Walks In Beauty by George Gordon, Lord Byron

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 mellow'd to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair'd 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!
-- George Gordon, Lord Byron

Today's post, my 75th, is dedicated to Steve and Rachel's Diamond Jubilee! And if you don't know what I mean by that, ask Steve to send you some photos.

While many poets naturally end a sentence or phrase at the end of a line, Byron, in this poem, often doesn't -- giving us what scholars call enjambed lines. This is especially obvious in the first two lines which don't make any sense if you don't keep on reading through. This allows the poet a few advantages: First, he can emphasize a word that doesn't fall at the end of the thought without turning his sentence around inside out and backwards. Second, he can also achieve more natural sounding sentences by varying their length throughout the poem instead of always having to stick with the length of the line. Third, he's able to use the power that rhythm has to get words to stick in the mind without being locked into the sing-song feeling that many poems with strict rhythm take on (he also varies the rhythm in the 4h line by other means).

I believe that it's this freedom and natural sound that attract many poets to free verse. Still, as I said in the comments a few days ago, I think that they often lose something when they don't have any structure at all. It's hard to describe what it is. Perhaps it's that sense of surprise at their cleverness for fitting just the right word into the available space -- the same sort of pleasure you can get from a well played Scrabble move. Maybe it's just that my brain seems to respond especially well to rhythm and rhyme. I found out long ago that I can memorize certain things without even trying -- and that if it's set to music (which often entails rhythm and rhyme, it takes far fewer repetitions). Whatever the case, I like this poem, and others like it, for the way they skillfully walk the fine line between natural language and poetic structure.


  1. That was so sweet of you!

    Love Mom

  2. Sounds like Becky

  3. I just realized today that I had posted this poem before. Oh well.