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!
This poem is from Byron’s volume of Hebrew Melodies. So as I read this, I kept that in mind and looked for hints of Jewish mysticism woven into the verse.
The central symbol in this poem is the moon, which appears at night and possesses both “dark and bright” aspects. Byron expresses a reverence to the lunar orb and acknowledges the connection between the moon and the divine feminine. As I considered this, the Jewish mystic connection became clear.
I suspect that Byron is making a reference to the Shekhinah, which in Jewish kabbalistic tradition is the divine feminine aspect of the godhead. The Shekhinah, like other goddess symbols, is associated with the moon, which represents divine light in the darkness.
The Kabbalah refers to the Shekhinah as feminine, according to Gershom Scholem. “The introduction of this idea was one of the most important and lasting innovations of Kabbalism. …no other element of Kabbalism won such a degree of popular approval.” The “feminine Jewish divine presence, the Shekhinah, distinguishes Kabbalistic literature from earlier Jewish literature.”
“In the imagery of the Kabbalah the shekhinah is the most overtly female sefirah, the last of the ten sefirot, referred to imaginatively as ‘the daughter of God’. … The harmonious relationship between the female shekhinah and the six sefirot which precede her causes the world itself to be sustained by the flow of divine energy. She is like the moon reflecting the divine light into the world.”
The Romantic writers were deeply interested in all forms of mysticism and the occult, so it does not surprise me that Byron found inspiration in Jewish mystical tradition.