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 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!
It is said to have been inspired by an event in Byron's life. On 11 June 1814, Byron attended a party in London. Among the guests was Mrs. Anne Beatrix Wilmot, wife of Byron’s first cousin, Sir Robert Wilmot. He was struck by her unusual beauty, and the next morning the poem was written.
It is thought that she was the first inspiration for his unfinished epic poem about Goethe, a personal hero of his. In this unpublished work, which Byron referred to in his letters as his magnum opus, he switches the gender of Goethe and gives him the same description of his cousin.
The first two verses are cited in the novel The Philadelphian by Richard P. Powell. The beginning of the poem is quoted by a character in Arcadia, one of the major plays of Tom Stoppard. The poem is also referenced in a House of Night book, where Nathan, in his reminiscences of Byron, suggests (without any justification) that the subject of the poem may have been Byron's half-sister, Augusta Leigh.
- Musical settings
The poem has inspired various composers over time, including Roger Quilter, Gerald Finzi, Toby Hession, Jean Coulthard, Isaac Nathan, Nicolas Flagello, Connor J. Koppin and Chanticleer Men's Chorus Conductor/Composer Eric Barnum. The first line of British rock band Suede's song "Heroine" is "She walks in beauty, like the night." The British musical ensemble, Mediaeval Baebes, sing the complete poem on their 2018 album, “Victoriana.”
The first four lines of the poem are recited by Major Charles Winchester, played by David Ogden Stiers, in the 1979 M*A*S*H episode "Ain't Love Grand". Also in an episode of The Cosby Show when mother, Clair Huxtable, recites the poem to her former professor of Hillman College. Part of the poem is recited by Cleaver Greene, played by Richard Roxburgh, to his son, Finnegan "Fuzz" Greene, played by Keegan Joyce, in the initial episode (2010) of the Australian television series Rake. Neal Caffrey, played by Matt Bomer, recites much of the poem in the White Collar episode "Upper West Side Story" (S3E12) while pretending to be a substitute teacher at an elite prep school under investigation by the FBI.
- Works related to She walks in beauty at Wikisource