Friday, May 20, 2011

She Walks in Beauty by Lord Byron (George Gordon)

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 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!

Some thoughts…

On the Poet: In many ways, Lord Byron (1788-1824) epitomized the Romantic Movement in English Literature. In his most famous works of poetry, as in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, the protagonist is a lonely hero alienated from the world he finds himself in. Byron too flung conventions in the face of society, both in his tempestuous romances and his political leanings. He travelled widely throughout Europe, and towards his death, championed the cause of Greek Freedom fighters against occupying Turkish rule.

On this Poem: A lovely poem about a woman of fabulous loveliness.

On a personal note: From a romantic and literary standpoint, I find this poem delightful, but it oddly brings to mind an ad I saw many years ago that has stuck in my memory. The caption read something along the lines of ‘Be silent and gentle like a little flower.’ The accompanying photo was of a garishly dressed woman, laughing uproariously, as she wielded a hand-organ.

It seems that for so long, women have attempted to mold themselves along the lines of male perceptions of beauty and femininity. Of course that has changed over the years, and the ideal itself varies from culture to culture. What is striking is that the ideal of manhood has more or less remained the same, while women are hobbling along trying to keep up with whatever trend is wafting in the breeze right now.  Yet the only thing that makes sense is to be ourselves, with maybe a courteous nod to society’s less ridiculous expectations.

Another thing that I find interesting is that while male poets wax rhapsodical about women, female poets, even the earlier ones, have seen themselves in a far more prosaic light. It’s like we’re reading about two different species.

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