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I was first introduced to the dashing and handsome Lord Byron in the middle of an undergraduate seminar on the Romantic Poets during my juinor year at Pepperdine University. The seminar was taught by Dr. Victoria Myers, who had high expectations of her students and didn’t flinch from implementing an exacting and difficult curriculum designed to toughen us up for the future rigors of life as English majors.

I still remember the first day I saw him: a gorgeous profile that looked remarkably like a young Laurence Olivier, on whom I’d had a crush since the age of 6 when I’d first seen him in Wuthering Heights. Little was left to the imagination as Dr. Myers regaled us with spicy tales of the poet’s amorous exploits. So very different from any of the poets we’d met so far, here was a poet a girl could really get her mind on! So silly…..

But as I matured as a writer and reader, much of Byron’s work continued to speak deeply to me and I began to find his images and figures transposed many times through my imagination and into my own work. The debt I owe him is one of gratitude for the poetic paradox of beauty he created in a single poem with which he captured my heart.

Growing up in Southern California with looks that were once described as “swarthy” — yes, you read that right — it can be assumed my ideas of beauty were a bit skewed towards the iconic Malibu Barbie image. This was only further emphasized in my reading and academic life when the majority of the good and pure heroines were blond and fair, while the characters with dark hair and skin inevitably had something wrong with them. Quite simply, darkness was less desirable.

Byron changed all of that for me. In “She Walks In Beauty,” I finally saw the possibilities of a different form of beauty in my own dark features. After countless real life experiences and thousands of pages of stories and novels in which the fair blonde was the only “good and desirable woman”, I now saw an image of darkness as lovely and peaceful rather than sinister and calculating, and so seeing, fell in love with him who saw it too.

On this anniversary of the birth of Lord Byron, I’m grateful for the gift of this visionary artist who wasn’t afraid to explore both the beauty hidden in the darkness.

She Walks in 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 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!
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