I Stand in Awe.
Love can mean different things according to circumstances, the objects of affection, and the person experiencing the feeling. Correspondingly, many things can characterize love as well. Yet, one of the most common ‘syndromes’ is admiration, in other words, awe. Two poets George Gordon and Percy Bysshe Shelly describe such reverence in their poems “She Walks in Beauty” and “To a Skylark”. In both of these poems the characters experience this felling. One experiences it towards a woman, another, towards a skylark. Even though the relationships between the characters and the objects of their affections are fundamentally different, the admiration that they feel is somewhat similar.
In “She Walks in Beauty” the character describes a woman. He is so taken by her beauty, that it is not even her physical appearance that captures him; it is her mere presence. In his description of her, the author draws comparisons and descriptions to this woman’s beauty from everywhere in nature. In the first stanza of the poem he gives her a kind of a mystical and dream like quality by comparing her to the night. The description of the eyes and the face of this phantom of the night is breathtaking, yet, somehow disturbing. “And all that’s best of dark and bright / Meet in her aspect and her eyes”, a face that belong to a saint and a sinner at the same time is not meant to be seen by the human eyes (Byron, lines 3-4).
The following two stanzas deal with this woman’s beauty as well, but mostly they discuss her emotional being. To the author she appears calm, at peace with herself, pure and innocent in her affections. It is as though this woman is a child inside, uncomplicated and not hardened by the harsh realities of life. “A mind at peace with all below, / A heart whose love is innocent!” (Byron, lines 17-18). The line about her mind being at peace with all below can suggest one of two things. Either the author is trying to give her an air like quality, someone very light and gracious. Or, that she is above the rest of the human race in a sense that she is not concerned with earthly problems, and therefore is not bothered by them at all; since her spirituality is far more precious and she posses a true understanding of the universe. Overall the authors admiration and awe for this woman is boundless. He is so taken by her that he in his description he gives her god-like qualities.
In “To a Skylark” the character begins by calling the skylark a happy spirit. He is in love with this bird’s song. He admires the little creature for being able to sing so beautifully and joyfully. He draws comparisons from nature to describe the skylark. In addition, he draws comparisons from human life to relay the beauty and power of the bird’s song. Each stanza delivers a either a gentle simile, or a lovely metaphor, or an imaginative analogy about the skylark.
Also, unlike the character in “She Walks in Beauty” who is concerned with the physical appearance of his woman along with her spiritual and emotional beauty; the author of “To a Skylark” is only concerned with the birds song and the sheer energy, joy, and beauty of it. He also prizes the bird with a divine understanding of the universe:
“Waking or asleep,
Thou of death must deem
Things more true and deep
Than we mortals dream,
Or how could thy notes flow in such crystal stream?”
(Shelley, lines 81-85)
The author hints that a mere human is to flawed to be able to sing with such abandon.
The skylark, in a way, points to the character what happiness is about. He mocks the author with his own humanity and inability to posses this gladdens and love for life that he, a simple bird, posses. This motif is not even hinted upon in the other poem. There, the author appears to be calmed by his woman not agitated and saddened.
These poems, even though they are different in some respects, are overall very similar. They both express admiration and awe with something. Both characters concentrate on the spiritual value and beauty of the objects of their admiration. Moreover, both of these poems are saddening to the reader. For when a person reads about such beauty, he or she immediately wants to posses it. But when this person realizes that in order to posses this beauty he or she must either be truly loved or be spiritually above such physical concerns, the sadness settles in.