This is perhaps the most famous of Byron’s short poems. On 11 June 1814, Byron attended a fashionable party at Lady Sitwell’s, and met – for the first time – his cousin, Lady Wilmot Horton. The young lady wore a mourning dress and it was the contrast between her youthful beauty and her somber attire that sparked the poem. He wrote it that same evening, and it was included in his 1815 collection, Hebrew Melodies.
It is written in iambic tetrameter, a style typically used for hymns. This makes perfect sense for the Hebrew Melodies collection was intended to be – literally – a collection of Old Testament-themed melodies. Lyrics were to be provided by Byron, and music by Isaac Nathan, a Rabbinical student lately turned composer who was four years Byron’s junior. Their collaboration was encouraged by Byron’s friend (and banker), Douglas Kinnaird. Byron quite generously gave Nathan copyright to his ‘lyrics’. Nathan’s music was intended to reflect the spirit and style of old Hebrew folk songs.
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies,
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meets 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.
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Link will appear as Hanson, Marilee. "She Walks in Beauty Poem" https://englishhistory.net/byron/poems/she-walks-in-beauty/, April 19, 2015