Alfred Noyes

(16 September 1880 – 25 June 1958 / Wolverhamton)

The Highwayman - Poem by Alfred Noyes

PART ONE

I

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.

II

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.

III

Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard,
And 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.

IV

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—

V

'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.'

VI

He rose upright in the stirrups; he scarce could reach her hand,
But she loosened her hair i' 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,
(Oh, sweet, black waves in the moonlight!)
Then he tugged at his rein in the moonliglt, and galloped away to the West.



PART TWO

I

He did not come in the dawning; he did not come at noon;
And out o' the tawny sunset, before the rise o' 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 matching, up to the old inn-door.

II

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.

III

They had tied her up to attention, with many a sniggering jest;
They had bound a musket beside her, with the barrel beneath her breast!
'Now, keep good watch!' and they kissed her.
She heard the dead 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!

IV

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!

V

The tip of one finger touched it; she strove no more for the rest!
Up, she stood up to attention, with the barrel 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 .

VI

Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horse-hoofs 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!

VII

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.

VIII

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 red blood!
Not till the dawn he heard it, 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.

IX

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 i' 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 the bunch of lace at his throat.

X

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.

XI

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.

Form: Ballad


Comments about The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes

  • (9/12/2018 9:50:00 AM)


    I love it i am doing it in English and as an assembly (Report) Reply

    0 person liked.
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  • (7/20/2018 7:55:00 PM)


    An absolute brilliant piece of English litteratuture. (Report) Reply

  • Petals Azureblue (7/16/2018 10:44:00 PM)


    What a spellbinding poem. Awesome! ! ! 👍👍👍 (Report) Reply

  • (7/6/2018 12:53:00 PM)


    Such a poo u noobs bahaha now whatever don't read this there are better ones (Report) Reply

  • (6/7/2018 7:56:00 AM)


    A poem loved by and recounted to me by my father and also not long before his death. A few days after his death I heard it on Poetry Today on Radio 4 and it was as though he was talking to me again and telling me he was still around and would ever be. (Report) Reply

  • (6/7/2018 12:49:00 AM)


    very annoying story.jk (Report) Reply

  • (6/5/2018 1:32:00 PM)


    I learned of this poem 70 years ago when I was in high school and wish there were more writers like Alfred Noyes today. The language is very descriptive and really haunts you. (Report) Reply

  • (6/1/2018 9:47:00 AM)


    I learned this poem when I was 12 years and still say it when I am trying to go to sleep. That was 70 years ago. Once my family was on a car trip and I started to say it for my children and my Husband said don't bore them with THAT What a shame. Also Laska, which is a similar love story. (Report) Reply

  • (5/31/2018 4:22:00 PM)


    I too remember the first lines of this poem - in the fall especially - when the moon dodges in and out of clouds. It's always been one of my favorite poems. (Report) Reply

  • (5/31/2018 2:19:00 AM)


    One of my favourite poems from high school - I still, when I look at a full moon, especially when its a cloudy night recite.......the moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy skies. Love the narrative. (Report) Reply

  • (5/21/2018 1:05:00 PM)


    But why was the setting at the end repeated to the setting at the beginning? (Report) Reply

  • (5/21/2018 12:43:00 PM)


    i think that the poem is amazing because the poem has key techniques that other poems dont have or that are not used correctly. (Report) Reply

  • (5/16/2018 4:20:00 AM)


    I remember learning this in year 5. It was scary because the young woman was going to kill herself. But i understand now it was a sacrifice she had to make. (Report) Reply

    (5/25/2018 3:56:00 PM)

    O know how I feel i just now understand it to

  • (5/13/2018 3:07:00 AM)


    Highway man bbdddhyfhjkgdaargyhuk (Report) Reply

  • (4/29/2018 8:08:00 AM)


    Amazing tragic events and great to learn about at school (Report) Reply

  • (4/20/2018 12:26:00 AM)


    I have loved this poem since I was 10 years old and we had to memorise it, all of it for school, I am now 78 years old. thank you to Alfred Noyes for writing it, (Report) Reply

    (4/29/2018 10:34:00 PM)

    Gladys,
    Same for me! I had to recite it in English class. I’m 67 years old and I can still remember the words!

  • (4/3/2018 8:49:00 AM)


    What a ballad! What a story! What a poem!
    The rhymes, rhythms, word-play! Oh, haunting!
    (Report) Reply

    (7/6/2018 12:53:00 PM)

    Nah u Christmas fairy

    (4/9/2018 3:08:00 AM)

    Such love is Christ like! ! !

  • (3/29/2018 1:59:00 PM)


    you guys know the poem is about sexual abuse and suicide, right? (Report) Reply

    (5/4/2018 11:48:00 AM)

    we learnt about it in school good poem

    (4/9/2018 4:00:00 AM)

    It is not just about rape, sexual abuse committed by the soldiers on Bess, but about her immense unqualified love for the Highwayman. She used herself as the target to warn him. Then, as per the social set up, a raped girl was looked down upon and she this also would have been a reason for her suicide.

    Then, the Highwayman was not captured and put to trial as we see today. He was simply shot dead like a dog, on the road. Justice in those days were different.

    (4/9/2018 3:11:00 AM)

    How asinine can you get! ! ! You completely missed the point! ! !

  • (3/18/2018 3:24:00 PM)


    This poem was set to music by folksinger Phil Ochs. You should listen. (Report) Reply

  • (3/9/2018 10:27:00 AM)


    that was a goory poem but very descriptive (Report) Reply

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Read poems about / on: daughter, purple, dark, red, hair, dog, moon, sunset, wind, horse, sky, death, winter, kiss, light, silence, rose, tree, warning



Poem Submitted: Friday, January 3, 2003

Poem Edited: Friday, October 28, 2011


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