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

  • (1/21/2019 6:09:00 AM)

    is was very bad story (Report) Reply

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  • (1/15/2019 12:22:00 AM)

    My mother would read to us this poem when the electricity went out during storms. It would be my brother and my sister and me, listening to mother in a low scary dramatically voice, bring to life the ghost story of the love between the highwayman and Bess by candle light. We loved it! (Report) Reply

  • (12/16/2018 5:33:00 PM)

    What kind of poem is this? ? ? ? ? ? (Report) Reply

  • Savita Tyagi (12/14/2018 8:54:00 AM)

    So captivating and spellbinding. Loved it to its last word. (Report) Reply

  • (12/13/2018 1:50:00 PM)

    I learning about it but what happened to ti m the oster? ? ? 👍 (Report) Reply

  • (10/12/2018 2:58:00 PM)

    the best but to long (short-er version for kids please0 (Report) Reply

  • (9/26/2018 11:47:00 AM)

    Awesome story like it and was sad but good (Report) Reply

  • (9/12/2018 9:50:00 AM)

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

  • (7/20/2018 7:55:00 PM)

    An absolute brilliant piece of English litteratuture. (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

    (9/27/2018 2:25:00 AM)

    this is the 8 year old robloxians natural habitat

    (9/24/2018 11:10:00 AM)

    That’s rude and this is based off of a true story. Shame on you

  • (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

    (10/28/2018 10:35:00 AM)

    It is repeated as a ghostly haunting

  • (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

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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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