Romanticism in 18th Century Poetry: Lord Byron
Updated: Oct 3, 2020
Romanticism was a movement in literature and arts originating in Europe during the 18th century. It emphasized inspiration, subjectivity, and the primacy of an individual and to this day continues to hold a great influence within arts and literature.
In Romantic poetry, imagination, emotions, and intuition are expressed as sources for perspective, rather than reason, logic, or science, in direct contrast with Neoclassical poetry. This form of poetry is based around the depth of feeling and personal ideals, which are profound themes in some of the greatest works of literature to date. Some of the best writers in history were Romantics and, though hundreds could be listed off, we're going to focus on the works of Lord Byron.
Lord Byron has been labeled as one of the greatest British Poets to date. He was one of the first writers of the Romantic movement and was one of the leading figures within. Despite his rather scandalous reputation, his beautiful works in writing are what have memorialized him into the minds of readers. He is best known for his poems Don Juan, Childe Harolds Pilgrimage, and our poem of discussion, She Walks In Beauty.
Though this poem is often regarded as being based on romantic love, there is nothing in the text to suggest such a bond. There is clearly a sense of deep affection between the poet and the subject, but there is more evidence of that bond being platonic. At one point, Byron confirmed the subject of the poem to be his cousin Mrs. Wilmot. Byron was apparently inspired by the time when they were at a party, and she was in mourning. She had been wearing a black sequined dress, and Byron took note of how beautiful she appeared in that moment with the sadness in her eyes, acknowledging a somewhat dark beauty. The latter part of the first verse confirms this, saying:
"All that’s best of dark and bright Meet in her aspect and her eyes."
One of the key points of this poem that makes it more than just an analysis of beauty is the themes of the importance of inner beauty. Byron's opinion on physical beauty was that it depended upon a person's secret heart, the goodness in themselves. Without that, the woman's physical beauty would be out of harmony with her soul.
Though this poem is often criticized for objectifying a woman's outward appearance, its important to acknowledge that the speaker's sense of goodness emanating from this woman is, in his opinion, the foundation on which her beauty is built upon.
From a personal perspective, what makes this poem unique within its genre is the themes of morality directly effecting the appearance of this woman. Most Romantic poets focus on outward looks only, which can often come across as superficial. What makes this work stand out, however, is that it encapsulates all forms of beauty, not just the ones based upon fleeting good looks in a young woman. It's clear why this poem has stood the test of time and continues to be one of the most cherished works of verse to this day.
There are many great works within the Romantic genre, each reflecting their own individual themes and definitions of love and beauty, but few have been as influential as She Walks in Beauty. Despite Lord Byron leading a life that caused him to gain a scandalous and potentially ruinous reputation, his appreciation of the goodness and purity in others is what makes his position within the Romantic genre so interesting to unravel.
Biography.com Editors, "Lord Byron Biography", 22 June 2020
Wikipedia, "Romantic Poetry", 3 September 2020 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romantic_poetry
Wikipedia, "Lord Byron", Edited 26 September 2020
Byron, George "She Walks in Beauty",
Spacey, Andrew "Analysis of Poem She Walks in Beauty by George Gordon, Lord Byron", 20 September 2020