In his poem, “She walks in Beauty,” by Lord Byron 1815, the ideas of chivalric and courtly love are explored. The poem contains eighteen lines, divided into three stanzas of six lines and possess the traditional form of a sonnet however there is no direct mention of love until the last line. Byron heavily focusses on the physical attributes of an unnamed woman where there is a deep affection displayed from the speaker to the female figure who is perhaps a symbol of innocence and purity. “The metre is in iambic tetrameter and uses enjambment to highlight the emotional state of the speaker.” (Cupit, 2018). His poem explores female beauty and the idea that the physical appearance depends on inner goodness and if in harmony, can result in the romantic ideal of aesthetic perfection. With the use of imagery, he refers to her dark and light attributes which are celebrated along with grace, modesty and gentleness; all of which were heavily desired qualities among a woman during the poem’s composition. Byron was a bisexual and often incestuous and subsequently, with his context, this poem was supposedly inspired after the sighting of his cousin, Lady Wilmot Horton, in a dark mourning dress. Hence, the reader can allude the belief that the physical appearance of a woman was dependant on her emotional and mental state was prevalent during Byron’s time. Carol Anne Duffy, in her poem “Valentine,” 1993, presents love as a sexual one. She uses the extended metaphor of onion which provides alternative ideas about love “Like the careful undressing of love.” In her poem, the speaker gives her beloved addressed as ‘you’ an onion as a gift that symbolises their love. The phases Duffy uses to describe the onion have both literal and metaphorical meanings. Duffy likes to breakdown conventional ideas seeing as she was gay and a notable way she does this is through writing a love poem in the form of free verse, meaning it does not conform to the traditional sonnet. The metaphor of the onion makes a great point of contrast with the light and bright imagery used in Byron’s poem. In her poem, the speaker gives her beloved addressed as ‘you’ and onion as a gift that symbolises their love. The phrases Duffy uses to describe the onion have both literal and metaphorical meanings. Duffy liked to breakdown conventional ideas of love seeing as she was gay and a notable way she does this is through writing a love poem in the form free verse, meaning it doesn’t conform to the traditional sonnet. She makes the case that our symbols and metaphors for love must change to something more realistic and representative of our age. The nature of love and its impact on the individual in Byron’s poem are exemplified through the notions that women are natural paragons of beauty and goodness, men are chaste admirers and love as pure, non-sexual and selfless whereas Duffy’s poem explores the heterosexual norms around love and the outdated symbols and metaphors at odds with tradition.
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“She walks in Beauty”, is a flowing lyric poem initially written as a song by Byron that explores the idea of women as natural paragons of beauty and goodness. The rhyme scheme is ababab and his use of alliteration “which place…/ serenely sweet…/dwelling- place…” bring texture and musicality to the poem. Furthermore, his use of assonance and internal rhythm affect the musicality. In lines five and six of stanza one, when the speaker says, “Thus mellowed to that tender light/ which heaven to gaudy denies.” It is evident that the use of light and dark imagery is used to compare the woman favourably whilst implying the night has qualities of skin, it can be touched and has developed a naturally relaxed, softened approach to it. When the speaker says, “one shade the more, one ray the less/ Had half impaired the nameless grace”, the speaker suggests that if she gained or lost a little bit or an immense lot of either dark or light, her nameless grace would be undermined. The focus of positive physical attributes leads to the conclusion that morally she is also faultless, her love is innocent. In Duffy’s poem, she challenges the heterosexual norms around love. The opening of her poem “Not a red rose or a satin heart”, is a negative one which goes against expectations. It also rejects the typical images and symbolism of modern romanticism. By using an interesting metaphor as an onion as a symbol of love to her beloved, the reader is prompted to think about the idea of love. Her poem does not include a rhyme scheme or pattern in the meter. When the speaker says, “I am trying to be truthful”, the speaker is being truthful, unlike many conventional love poems. It is also a “literal statement with the rhythm of ordinary prosaic speech: the effect is to present love as a balance between the ordinary and every day and powerful complex feelings of love ever felt by those who are a but cynical about love.” (Sarah Cupit, 2018). In her poem, Duffy is projecting from a marginalised position. During the sixties, the narrative given around love was not inclusive especially for those who were not heterosexual.
In his poem, Byron presents love in the notion that men are chaste admirers with the impact of second wave romanticism. This is suggestive of saintly pursuits of behaviour and religious influence of Byron’s context as he was Jewish. This is evident through his use of words such as “heaven” and “grace”. Grace is elated to Christian ideals. When the poet states, “Meet her in aspect and her eyes,” he again idealises her appearance, however, the eyes have long been referred to as the windows to the soul, so the speaker suggests that her soul tends towards perfection. “She walks in Beauty”, was written to be set to music, to traditional Jewish tunes by composer Isaac Nathan. In her poem, Duffy presents love as a sexual one. With the use of symbolism, alliteration, personification and the extended metaphor of an onion, it is evident that her personal identity and the context of composition heavily influenced the poem. “I give you an onion/ it is moon wrapped in brown paper”, the speaker says this to her beloved however the poet compares the onion to a moon, a traditional symbol of love. She also refers to the skin of the onion. It is plain wrapping for her ‘unusual gift, far removed from the conventional wrapping of common ‘valentine’s day’ gifts. Throughout the poem, the notions that grief and pain are sometimes are a result of relationship are apparent. For example, she says, “it will blind you with tears…/ lethal./ its scent will cling to your fingers, cling to your knife.” The heavy use of imagery awakens the visual senses of the reader senses and allows for the conclusion the taste of the onion is incredibly strong and difficult to erase just like the memory of a passionate relationship after itself has ended.
Lord Byron idealises the beauty by exploiting the emotion. From the poem, one can gather that the nature of love is pure, non-sexual and selfless. In his poem, the speaker is simply adoring the woman almost as if he is speaking under his breath. Light and dark together exist together in the psyche of the female of which the speaker is physically attracted to although he does not fall in love. In the final stanza of the poem, he returns to her face, but again sees the silent expression of peace and calm in her cheek, brow, and smiles. The speaker’s actual feelings are not directly described. Nevertheless, “… Byron borrows from a long tradition of poetry that praises a woman by breaking her down into her component parts. This approach effectively objectifies and silences the unnamed woman.” (Archer, 2016). An example this is when he uses the word “eloquent” in describing the woman. The word ‘eloquent’ usually refers to someone speaking clearly and expressing themselves fluently however Byron is using it to say that the woman looks tell him about what is going on inside her and what she is feeling. Valentine is a poem that challenges the symbols and metaphors at odds with tradition. She explores the many negative aspects of traditional relationships and the many ways it can be restrictive to the individual. “Not a cute card or a kissogram.” The poem provides the audience with the compositional context that allows for the inference of cultural background. The poem was written during the modern age around the 1990s which was the age of high divorce rates, sexual freedom and feminism. In her poem, she is criticising society’s views on materialism during Valentine’s day.
Byron’s poem reflects the Romanticism movement of the time. Romanticism was an artistic and literary era in which artists rejected science’s ability to explain everything. This led to much art and poetry created to celebrate beauty and love. The romantic nature of this poem reflects this movement. “The stereotype of the poet as a young man, struggling feverishly with the unnamed inspiration that he is compelled to follow, consumed by love and doomed to a tragic end, is based almost entirely on the lives of Keats, Shelley, and Byron, who lived and loved heartily and all died young.” (Cengage, 2002).” As a feminist herself, Duffy breaks down conventional ideologies around love culturally prevalent at her time. The focus of the poem, the onion, can be seen being used as a metaphor for the journey of love for example in the first verse, she discusses the ‘careful undressing of love’ referring to peeling away the layers of an onion. This is often thought to be talking about the barriers people have up regarding love and peeling away those barriers and layers of personality to expose their true selves.
- GYC Reader
- Cengage, Gale. “She walks in Beuty.” Ms. M’s Lit Corner – Home, afnorthliterature.weebly.com/uploads/1/2/5/3/12535080/she_walks_in_beauty_enotes.pdf.
- Archer, Victoria. “She Walks in Beauty.” Drapers’ Academy, 2016, drapersacademy.fluencycms.co.uk/MainFolder/a-english/9_she_walks_in_beauty.pdf
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