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

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

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

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  • Subhas Chandra Chakra (8/29/2017 2:21:00 PM)

    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—
    Exciting poem.
    (Report) Reply

  • Sylva-onyema Uba (2/11/2017 7:12:00 AM)

    Wonderful piece!
    Well expressed and punctuated!

    (Report) Reply

  • (2/9/2017 10:36:00 AM)

    My $0.02
    While the poem was extravagant, I feel that it is somewhat overrated, as if it were to be compared to the likes of works by classic western poets, such as Tupac'eth Shakur, who wrote Me Against the World, though my personal favorite of his is Hit Them Up in which he describes his rivalry with eastern poets such as Bigg'eth Smalls. (Report) Reply

    Isaac Halberstadt Isaac Halberstadt (8/12/2017 10:46:00 AM)

    You managed to sneak past me with 'Tupac'eth Shakur, but when I read 'Bigg'eth Smalls', I knew what was going on. Well played, my friend, well played indeed.

  • Tom Allport (12/31/2016 3:53:00 PM)

    tom allport
    an epic poem very well wrote. (Report) Reply

  • (9/15/2016 10:30:00 PM)

    One of the few classics that you can sing along to. As I read it, the tune came instantly and it was such a joy to behold! (Report) Reply

  • Fathima Usman (7/25/2016 7:31:00 AM)

    My mom and I read this poem five years ago. It has been one of our favourites! (Report) Reply

  • Susan Williams (6/20/2016 2:28:00 PM)

    I read this story poem when I was very young- before I owned my first horse- -and it haunted me for the rest of my life. What a powerful, well-written, stylish, atmosphere-driven, romantic, suspenseful, giant of a poem! (Report) Reply

  • Loppo Louie (6/3/2016 11:05:00 AM)

    The Highwayman reminds me of that group of musicians. (Report) Reply

  • Loppo Louie (6/3/2016 11:04:00 AM)

    A very good poem, The days have past since in scho
    (Report) Reply

  • (5/27/2016 11:42:00 AM)

    Stephan W-Beautifully written. Yet it condones the violence of the highwayman, a cold-blooded killer whose love is gold. Thus it is very naive.

    Please. Are you serious? Where do you get that this poem condones violence? It doesn't. You are confused. The only violence perpetrated in this entire work of art is by the hand of King George's soldiers. Nowhere does it say the Highwayman is a cold blooded killer and nowhere does it even hint that he is. The King's men are the only murderers in this story.

    A highwayman was a robber which doesn't automatically make him a killer. There is a difference.

    Who is the naïve one here?

    (Report) Reply

  • (4/29/2016 11:48:00 AM)

    Slightly scary and yet wonderfully imaginative. I'm learning it at school and I'm really enjoying studying it. (Report) Reply

  • (4/28/2016 4:15:00 AM)

    A wonderful poem that embodies the power of love over the finality of death. (Report) Reply

  • (2/3/2016 1:25:00 PM)

    Love this poem, really caught my imagination. Learning it at school, and now doing an essay. Great atmosphere, love it. (Report) Reply

  • (1/22/2016 2:45:00 PM)

    I like this poem I am learning about it at school. (Report) Reply

    Ellis Thomas (2/3/2016 1:21:00 PM)


  • (12/18/2015 12:56:00 PM)

    Loved this poem as a child (Report) Reply

  • (11/17/2015 11:19:00 PM)

    The great and late folksinger Phil Ochs put this poem to music in the 60's long before
    McKennitt Same melody. While I like her version listen to the man that originally put it to music. Ochs and Noyes - MAGIC.
    (Report) Reply

    Christopher Blue (4/15/2017 8:53:00 AM)

    Actually, the FIRST man to set it to music was Deems Taylor, in 1914,52 years before Ochs. It was performed by numerous singers before Ochs.

    Ellis Thomas (2/3/2016 1:22:00 PM)


  • (11/4/2015 3:52:00 PM)

    I learnt this poem as a boy I loved it then and I still do seventy six years later (Report) Reply

  • Mohammed Asim Nehal (10/3/2015 10:56:00 AM)

    Superb, Great imagery and scenic beauty is amazing. (Report) Reply

  • (9/1/2015 4:18:00 AM)

    I likes this poem and the narratives though I was frankly not capable to understand it well. (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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