Themes

The back of a dark haired woman sat on a beach
A raven-haired beauty is the subject of the poem

A number of unifying ideas or themes run through the poem. Different readers may attach more or less significance to each of these themes, depending upon how they view the poem.

ThemeEvidenceAnalysis
Appearance: Byron avoids conventional symbols to describe the subject’s beauty, eg flowers or a sunny summer’s day. It is a less conventional appearance that is described. ‘the nameless grace/ Which waves in every raven tress’The woman is a raven-haired beauty. The word ‘raven’ perhaps gives her a darker aspect as it is traditionally associated with a bird of bad omen.
Light: there are several references to day- and night-time, to aspects of the natural world which create light (stars) and to an inner light or radiance.‘And all that’s best of dark and bright/ Meet in her aspect and her eyes’The best features of light and its antithesis (opposite), darkness, meet to form something even greater in the subject’s extraordinary beauty. It is especially noticeable in her eyes.
A sense of wonder: the speaker’s sense of wonder is not directly expressed but comes from the nature of the comparisons he makes between the woman and aspects of the natural world.'She walks in beauty, like the night/ Of cloudless climes and starry skies'In the opening two lines the poet uses a simile (a comparison using ‘like’ or ‘as’ to create a vivid image) to compare the subject’s beauty to something vast, uncontained and almost unimaginable.
Question

How does Byron demonstrate the power of the woman’s beauty?

  • The whole poem is focused exclusively on this one person.
  • We are not told anything factual about the woman (her name, her age, etc.) She therefore has a sense of mystery about her which enhances her attractiveness.
  • Byron uses strong contrasting images of light and darkness to convey extremes of emotion.