Alfred Noyes

(16 September 1880 – 25 June 1958 / Wolverhamton)

The Highwayman - Poem by Alfred Noyes



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—
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,
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.


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 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.



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—
King George's men came matching, 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 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!


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 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 .


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!


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 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.


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.


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—
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.

Form: Ballad

Comments about The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes

  • (12/10/2017 2:57:00 AM)

    O loved this poem when I was at school and now at 61 I still love it. know the beginning by heart (Report) Reply

    2 person liked.
    0 person did not like.
  • (12/5/2017 12:49:00 AM)

    Hate to be limited to just a few words or characters (Report) Reply

  • (12/5/2017 12:44:00 AM)

    Wish I could find the movie. Help (Report) Reply

  • (12/5/2017 12:39:00 AM)

    When I was about 6 years old I think I saw a short movie about The Highwayman. It was wonderful (Report) Reply

  • (12/4/2017 2:57:00 PM)

    I am learning about it at school it is the best that I have read I have just read it to my mam (Report) Reply

  • (12/1/2017 11:41:00 AM)

    I used to hate this poem with a passion. Nothing to do with the poem. I had a lazy English teacher who couldn't be bothered to remember the names of his students, and because I have a very common surname, it was always me that was picked on to read anything out loud and this was one of the worst: it's long and I always stumbled over those tlot-tlot bits. I am now reading it for the first time in over 55 years and can appreciate it from a different perspective. So never say never. (Report) Reply

  • (11/19/2017 5:57:00 AM)

    poem learned at Villa Maria Peru 1950 and never forgotten - great fun enactment by classmates using Sister's desk as the Inn. Bi-lingual school - girls upper class with excellent English learned. Pity poems by Alfred Noyes etc. not taught In Australia - including The New duckling - learned in 1946 in Kingston Canada. (Report) Reply

  • (11/16/2017 7:48:00 PM)

    This poem is about love, sacrifice, and loss. If you have ever been in love, or if you have ever sacrificed for love, or if you have ever experienced deep loss then this poem will move you. (Report) Reply

  • (11/15/2017 1:11:00 PM)

    it was a little bit weird (Report) Reply

  • (11/15/2017 12:57:00 PM)

    good peom just read when you are bored in your ela class (Report) Reply

  • (11/15/2017 12:20:00 PM)

    super good peom. to read when you are bored (Report) Reply

  • (11/15/2017 12:20:00 PM)

    a very good peice of work. that is all i could say. (Report) Reply

  • (11/15/2017 12:18:00 PM)

    I think that this is a very good piece of work.
    we have to do this during school so it takes a long time. which is goood. 😁 😆 😅 😂 🤣
    (Report) Reply

  • (11/15/2017 10:28:00 AM)

    boi this is saaaaaaddd that girl died bc she had long back hair im a boi i dont even have that much back hair (Report) Reply

  • (11/15/2017 9:23:00 AM)

    ima tank and yo mama got a stanky leg (Report) Reply

  • (11/12/2017 5:37:00 AM)

    so crap it made my ears bleed (Report) Reply

    Alfred Noyes Fan (11/17/2017 1:53:00 PM)

    This poem was written by a highly succesful poet who is known worldwide, as well as THIS poem you dubbed 'so crap it made your ears bleed' was voted 15th in the BBC's poll for The Nation's Favourite Poems in 1995. So when you write a poem that gets that far, and is loved by millions from 52 different countries, please let me know. I'd love to hear it.

  • (10/11/2017 8:58:00 PM)

    Beautifully tragic and heart wrenchingly romantic! "La Douleur Exquise" (Report) Reply

  • Khirod Dalpati (10/5/2017 12:36:00 PM)

    One of my favourites (Report) Reply

  • (10/5/2017 12:06:00 PM)

    This would be better if I could understand it (Report) Reply

  • Tobey Beckley (9/17/2017 7:08:00 PM)

    Wow This is very long I have to do this at school 😊😊 (Report) Reply

Read all 199 comments »

# 27 poem on top 500 Poems

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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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