The Highwayman Poem

The Highwayman Poem

 “The Highwayman,” is a poem published in 1906 by Alfred Noyes. It is a narrative poem telling a story of a highwayman who fell in love with Bess. Bess was the landlord’s daughter, or in other words, Bess was the daughter of an Innkeeper. The poem is a story about love, sacrifice, murder, betrayal, and heartbreak. The poem is considered to be among the best narrative poems because of the imagery in the narration.

Quicklinks

  1. Highwayman poem Vocabulary List
  2. Highwayman Poem Summary
  3. Highwayman Poem Questions and Answers
  4. The Highwayman Poem

Before we commence on analyzing the poem, students need to understand a few vocabularies.

The Highwayman Poem Vocabulary List

1. Torrent

A huge amount or number. It is a stream of liquid such as water violently moving.

“The wind was a torrent of darkness upon the gusty trees”

2. Galleon

A huge sailing ship, square-rigged with three masts or more.

“The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas”

3. Claret

Bordeaux-like red dry wine. It’s a dark purplish-red color

“A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of the fine doe-skin”

4. Moor

A piece of land with moss and heather.

“The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor”

5. Ostler

A person who takes care of horses in a stable

“Where Tim the ostler listed. His face was white and peaked”

6. Rapier

A sword with two edges and a narrow blade.

“His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jeweled sky”

7. Plait

Make by interlacing or braiding

“Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair”

8. Stirrup

A support with metal loops into which riders place their feet

“He rose upright in the stirrups. He scarce could reach her hand

9. Casement

A window shash hinged on one side

“But she loosened her hair in the casement”

10. Wicket

A small door or gate, the part of a larger door

“And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable. Wicket creaked.”

11. Harry

To annoy chronically of continuously

“Yet if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day

Then look for me by moonlight”

12. Hilt

The handle of a dagger or sword

“His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jeweled sky”

13. Brandish

Exhibit aggressively

“Back, he spurred like a madman, shouting a curse to the sky,

With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high.”

14. Muzzle

The circular end of a gun

“Up, she stood up to attention, with the muzzle beneath her breast”

15. Tawny

The color of brown or tanned leather

“And out of the tawny sunset, before the rise of the moon”

16. Musket

A shoulder gun, muzzleloading, and with a long barrel

“Her musket shattered the moonlight”

17. Prime

Initiate the burning of a propellant by inserting an igniter

It is an act of making something ready

“The red-coats looked at their priming”

18. Strain

Exert a lot of energy or effort

“They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like years”

19. Refrain

The section of a poem or song that recurs at regular intervals

“And the blood in her veins, in the moonlight, throbbed to her love’s refrain”

20. Jest

A joke meant to provoke laughter. Also humor

“They had tied her up to attention, with many a sniggering jest”

The Highwayman Poem Summary

The poem opens when the Highwayman is riding into a town on a winter night. He is well dressed and confidently rides in the moonlight into the city. He taps the closed shutter, only to have one window opened by Bess, his lover, and also the landlord’s daughter.

The Highwayman confirms to Bess that he is after a prize, and requests her to wait for him. She agrees and drops down her long hair for him to kiss.

Meanwhile, the Ostler, Tim watches them, the highwayman rides off, and the Ostlers proceeds to betray him.

Bess waits for the Highwayman to come back, but he neither comes back in the morning or the afternoon. The king’s men ride into the town in the evening and capture Bess. They use Bess as the bait for catching the Highwayman by tying her up.

They jokingly tie a musket to her, laugh as they go downstairs, and ask her to keep watch.

Bess tries to free herself off but she cannot. She is only able to move her finger to cover the trigger. She gives up and chooses to wait for the highwayman.

Bess hears the sound of the Highwayman’s horse approaching; she makes a crucial decision.

She uses her finger to pull the trigger, shooting herself in the chest, and by doing so, she warns the Highwayman.

Without knowing that Bess has killed herself, the Highwayman takes off. He rides all night and gets the news if Bess demise in the morning.

Out of anger, he rides back into the town where he also gets shot, and he also dies.

Highwayman Poem Questions and Answers

What does the Highwayman Poem mean?

The narrative poem, “The Highwayman” is a story about love, sacrifice, murder, betrayal, and heartbreak. The author’s sole purpose was to tell a story about England and the romantic love between a highwayman, who is a criminal that robs individuals traveling, and the innkeeper’s daughter, Bess.

The Highwayman is an anti-hero, as he robs from travelers; however, we still admire how he loves Bess, his bravery. He is not a perfect person, but their love with Bess redeems his character.

The poem challenges numerous poetic themes to create an idealized and intriguing love. The poem celebrates our anti-hero for exhibiting real bravery and true love and confirms that people who try to interfere with true love mostly fail.

 Is Highwayman Poem a True Story?

 The Highwayman poem is a fictional story based on a tale that the poet, Alfred Noyes, heard while on vacation in a region in England where highwaymen used to wait for travelers with valuable goods and rob them.

What Type of Poem is the Highwayman?

The Highwayman is a Narrative Poem or a ballad meaning that it is a poem telling a story in short stanzas. Usually, ballads are passed on orally from one generation to another. The Highwayman poem is divided into two parts and revolves around love and suffering. From the narrative poem, we can read it like it has all the features and aspects of a story, including:

  • A plot, setting, and characters
  • A beginning, a middle, and an end
  • A problem and solution

 Who is Tim in the Highwayman Poem

Tim was the Ostler, a person who looks after horses in a stable, at the inn where Bess stayed.

Tim is an eavesdropper and only shows up once in the poem.

He is the one that snitched the Highwayman to the redcoats, and he was jealously in love with Bess. However, Bess’ heart belonged to the Highwayman.

He hated the Highwayman and wanted to stop him from taking his secret admirer from him.

His appearance is well described using similes. Through the use of metaphors, we learn that Tim had a white and peaked face, with eyes hollows of madness, and his hair like mouldy hay.

Since Tim knew that the Highwayman intended to go and steal gold, he wanted him to get caught and killed by the redcoats.

What does “Ghostly Galloon” Mean?

The phrase is used in the second line of the first stanza.

“The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas”

The phrase is used as a metaphor to draw a comparison between two unrelated objects.

The moon has been compared to a ghostly galleon (A huge sailing ship, square-rigged with three masts or more).

Therefore, the moon is like a vast ship sailing through the sky.

The poet uses this metaphor to invoke the mood of a spooky or sinister nighttime scenery, an ideal setting for a scary and sad story.

 How did the Highwayman Die?

When the Highwayman learns of the demise of his lover Bess, he gets angry, crazy, and sad and a makes a dumb move and goes back to the town.

He rides as first as he could while swinging his sword.

He then gets shot by the British soldiers in the middle of the road and meets his death in a pool of blood.

The poet uses the phrase, “He gets shot down like a dog”

What is the Main Theme in the Highwayman Poem?

It would be hard to get a more significant theme in the poem than Love and Sacrifice. The love that the Highwayman and Bess share drives the whole poem into action. Without love, there would be no plot in the narration. Even though their love results in death, it is a beautiful thing.

Tim the Ostler is also in love, but his love is darker and weird, a massive contrast to that of Bess and the Highwayman.

The poet is more focused on the beautiful, comforting, and compelling aspects of love.

 Other Themes in the Highwayman Poem include:

1. Courage

The Highwayman has to be brave to do his job. We all know that his job is not morally right. However, it takes severe bravery and guts to be a highway robber.

Bess is also brave, and maybe foolish in love, as she tries to protect his lover from the British soldiers

On the other hand, the British soldiers exhibit the opposite of bravery. They don’t have enough courage to go after the Highwayman, and that’s why they use Bess as the bait to get to the Highwayman.

The poem makes Bess the most fearless character of them all, and possibly a reversal of gender roles.

2. Violence

  • There is a threat of violence from the beginning of the poem. Both the main characters of the poem die in pools of blood.
  • The poem has, however, condemned violence and the violent life of the Highwayman as it brings him to a violent death, and the death of innocent Bess, his lover.

The Highwayman

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 silence! Tlot-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.