Comparison of Shakespeare’s “130 Sonnet” & Lord Byron’s “She walks in Beauty”

A sonnet is a specific form of a poem and it originates from Italy. Historically the invention of sonnet is associated with the name of Giacomo da Lentini. The term sonnet comes from the Italian word sonetto, which meant a little poem or a song. In the thirteenth century sonnet had already some concrete characteristic features. (Regan 2006). For example it was composed of fourteen lines and had a strict rhyme scheme and special structure. The writers, who produced sonnets, were sometimes called sonneteers. Nowadays to the above mentioned two characteristics of sonnet, there is one more added, which is iambic Pentameter. It is a poetic meter with ten beats per line, consisting of stressed and unstressed syllables. Often sonnets are subdivided into four sections and they are called quatrains. The last quatrain is made up of two lines only, and they should rhyme with each other. Lord Byron and Shakespeare are the most famous representatives of the poetry of the medieval Europe. In his poem She Walks a Beauty Lord Byron reveals his love towards a lady, whom he met during a ball during one night. This poem was composed in the Petrarchan style of poetry and was the poet’s way to express his love and admiration. My Mistress’s Eyes are Nothing Like a Sun is a sonnet by Shakespeare, which was also produced in the Petrarchan style, but Shakespeare added some innovations to the traditions of the medieval times.

Both authors devoted their poems to the theme of their mistress’s beauty and compared it to the most beautiful natural things, however in the sonnet by Shakespeare it is possible to trace his love till the very end of it. Historically the medieval times were the period, when marriages were arranged only on the basis of the position of power and wealth. This is the reason, why the situations of courtly love were not rare, and the theme of courtly love was so widely used by the poets of this time. The two authors praise the beauty of their love objects via profound metaphors and imagery, comparing their beauty to the beauty of the nature. The poem She Walks in Beauty by Lord Byron is written in Lyrical form and initially it needed musical accompaniment. In the very first stanza the poet uses elements for comparing the beauty:

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 the tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies

With the help of oxymoron in the following lines the poet underlines the beauty of this woman, creating an ideal balance:

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 love theme is prevailing definitely in the poem by Lord Byron. He adheres to the traditions of courtly love and never talks about any sexual things. It was already mentioned that Shakespeare added his unique individual innovations to the concept of courtly love and it is possible to trace slight mocking of the comparisons of other poets of their lovers to the beauty of the nature. His way of describing his mistress is different:

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun; Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;

Thus Shakespeare creates contradictions between the beauty of the nature and the appearance of his mistress. This is done with the idea to underline that fact that this woman is not perfect, as she is a human being. This is a way for the poet to avoid idolization, which was integral to Petrarchan style. Thus the key theme of Shakespear’s sonnet is also love, but this love is different from that of Lorn Byron, as it seems to be more straightforward, which could be confirmed by the comparison of her hair to “black wires” or her breast less white than snow.

Although both poems are very beautiful and produced in similar style, they leave absolutely different feeling in the aftermath.

Works cited:

Hollander. J. Sonnets: From Dante to the Present. Everyman’s Library, 2001

Lee, Sidney, ed. Shakespeares Sonnets: Being a reproduction in facsimile of the first edition. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1905

McGann, Jerome. Byron and Romanticism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002

Regan. S. The Sonnet. Oxford University Press, 2006

The terms offer and acceptance. (2016, May 17). Retrieved from

[Accessed: May 24, 2022]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016.

[Accessed: May 24, 2022] (2016) The terms offer and acceptance [Online].
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[Accessed: May 24, 2022]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016

[Accessed: May 24, 2022]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016

[Accessed: May 24, 2022]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016

[Accessed: May 24, 2022]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016

[Accessed: May 24, 2022]
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