The Highwayman

The Highwayman

by Alfred Noyes

Part One

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding—
Riding—riding—
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

He’d a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin,
A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin.
They fitted with never a wrinkle. His boots were up to the thigh.
And he rode with a jewelled twinkle,
His pistol butts a-twinkle,
His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.

Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard.
He tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred.
He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked
Where Tim the ostler listened. His face was white and peaked.
His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay,
But he loved the landlord’s daughter,
The landlord’s red-lipped daughter.
Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say—

“One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I’m after a prize to-night,
But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light;
Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,
Then look for me by moonlight,
Watch for me by moonlight,
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.”

He rose upright in the stirrups. He scarce could reach her hand,
But she loosened her hair in the casement. His face burnt like a brand
As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast;
And he kissed its waves in the moonlight,
(O, sweet black waves in the moonlight!)
Then he tugged at his rein in the moonlight, and galloped away to the west.

Part Two

He did not come in the dawning. He did not come at noon;
And out of the tawny sunset, before the rise of the moon,
When the road was a gypsy’s ribbon, looping the purple moor,
A red-coat troop came marching—
Marching—marching—
King George’s men came marching, up to the old inn-door.

They said no word to the landlord. They drank his ale instead.
But they gagged his daughter, and bound her, to the foot of her narrow bed.
Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets at their side!
There was death at every window;
And hell at one dark window;
For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.

They had tied her up to attention, with many a sniggering jest.
They had bound a musket beside her, with the muzzle beneath her breast!
“Now, keep good watch!” and they kissed her. She heard the doomed man say—
Look for me by moonlight;
         Watch for me by moonlight;
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way!

She twisted her hands behind her; but all the knots held good!
She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood!
They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like years
Till, now, on the stroke of midnight,
Cold, on the stroke of midnight,
The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!

The tip of one finger touched it. She strove no more for the rest.
Up, she stood up to attention, with the muzzle beneath her breast.
She would not risk their hearing; she would not strive again;
For the road lay bare in the moonlight;
Blank and bare in the moonlight;
And the blood of her veins, in the moonlight, throbbed to her love’s refrain.

Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horsehoofs ringing clear;
Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot, in the distance? Were they deaf that they did not hear?
Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill,
The highwayman came riding—
Riding—riding—
The red coats looked to their priming! She stood up, straight and still.

Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silenceTlot-tlot, in the echoing night!
Nearer he came and nearer. Her face was like a light.
Her eyes grew wide for a moment; she drew one last deep breath,
Then her finger moved in the moonlight,
Her musket shattered the moonlight,
Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him—with her death.

He turned. He spurred to the west; he did not know who stood
Bowed, with her head o’er the musket, drenched with her own blood!
Not till the dawn he heard it, and his face grew grey to hear
How Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
The landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.

Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky,
With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high.
Blood red were his spurs in the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat;
When they shot him down on the highway,
Down like a dog on the highway,
And he lay in his blood on the highway, with a bunch of lace at his throat.

.       .       .

And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
A highwayman comes riding—
         Riding—riding—
A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.

Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard.
He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred.
He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
         Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

Summary of The Highwayman

  • Popularity of “The Highwayman”: This narrative poem was written by Alfred Noyes, a great English poet and playwright. ‘The Highwayman’ is also known as one of the famous lyrical poems on account of its themes of love and sacrifice. It was first published in August 1906. The poem comprises the infinite love of the highwayman and his beloved. It also illustrates how one can easily embrace death for the sake of love.
  • “The Highwayman” As a Representative of Love: The speaker details the account of a highwayman who falls in love with Bess, a landlord’s daughter. The poem is divided into two parts. The first part deals with the meeting of two lovers. The speaker describes how confidently the highwayman enters the town on a wintery night. He meets Bess, and they fall in love with each other. The highwayman asks his beloved that he has to depart and that she will have to wait for him. Bess agrees, and the highwayman kisses her and leaves.
    In the second part, Bess waits for the highwayman, but he doesn’t return. Meanwhile, Bess is captured and tortured by the king’s men. One day, she hears the sound of his lover’s horse. To warn him about the danger, she shoots herself in the heart and dies. Unaware of the sacrifice of his beloved, the highwayman rides back to the town, where the King’s men shoot him too. However, death could not separate the two lovers. The final epilogue suggests that their love continues after their death as their ghosts meet in every winter night.
  • Major Themes in “The Highwayman”: Love, courage, and sacrifice are the major themes of this poem. The poem celebrates the true love of its central characters; Bess and the highwayman. Both try to keep their promise, but cruel fate separates them, and they are killed. However, their souls reunite after death.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in “The Highwayman”

Literary devices are tools that enable the writers to present their ideas, emotions, and feelings by using persuasive language. Alfred Noyes has also employed some literary devices in this poem to reflect the love of central characters. The analysis of some of the literary devices used in this poem has been given below.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line. For example, the sound of /o/ “She strove no more for the rest” and the sound of /i/ in “And the highwayman came riding—Riding—riding—”.
  2. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example,

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor.”

  1. Symbolism: Symbolism is a use of symbols to signify ideas and qualities by giving them symbolic meanings that are different from their literal meanings. The red color symbolizes blood and love throughout the poem.
  2. Personification: Personification is to give human qualities to inanimate objects. For example, “There was death at every window”. Here ‘death’ is personified.
  3. Onomatopoeia: It refers to the words which imitate the natural sounds of the things. The poet has used the word “tlot”, the sound of the horse’ hooves in lines fifty-eight, fifty-nine, and sixty-five of the poem.
  4. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between the objects that are different. For example, The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees. The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.” Here the wind is compared with the torrent of darkness and moon with the ghostly ship.
  5. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought or clause that does not come to an end at a line break; instead, it moves over the next line. For example,

“Not till the dawn he heard it, and his face grew grey to hear
How Bess, the landlord’s daughter.”

  1. Repetition: There is a repetition of the verse “When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas” which has created a musical quality in the poem.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “The Highwayman”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this rhyme.

  • Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are fifteen stanzas in this poem. Each stanza contains six lines. A six line stanza is called a sestet.
  • Rhyme Scheme: The poem follows AABCCB rhyme scheme, and this pattern continues till the end.
  • Refrain: The lines that are repeated at some distance in the poems are called refrain. The verse, “When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas” is repeated with the same words in the first and last stanzas of the poem. Hence, it has become a refrain.

Quotes to be Used

The lines stated below can be used to describe a stormy night.

“The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor.”