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

  • Gold Star - 18,190 Points Mohammed Asim Nehal (10/3/2015 10:56:00 AM)

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

    0 person liked.
    1 person did not like.
  • Gold Star - 38,920 Points Gangadharan Nair Pulingat (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

  • Rookie - 28 Points Ross Mabeem (8/2/2015 10:09:00 PM)

    I love this poem although it is filled with death i love it (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 407 Points Aaron Henley (6/23/2015 9:49:00 PM)

    Thanks for the comment, I am no where near your level lol! ! Wish i could write like this; ( (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 0 Points Hallie Gee (2/24/2015 11:36:00 AM)

    This poem should not be enjoyable, it has quite a lot of death, and yet it is. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 228 Points Suchithra Harindran (2/22/2015 10:38:00 AM)

    Very beautiful poem. Though it is too long we are not boring while reading the poem. (Report) Reply

  • Gold Star - 38,920 Points Gangadharan Nair Pulingat (2/17/2015 11:11:00 PM)

    Beautiful poem but it is too long and pertains to the violence somewhere in those days. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 86 Points Reshma Joy (12/3/2014 9:15:00 AM)

    An endearing work! It touched my heart the first time I read it...and still does every time I reread it! ! Beautiful (Report) Reply

  • Freshman - 943 Points Stephen W (10/28/2014 9:52:00 PM)

    Beautifully written. Yet it condones the violence of the highwayman, a cold-blooded killer whose love is gold. Thus it is very naive. Love without conscience? A strange juxtaposition. (Report) Reply

  • Gold Star - 4,921 Points John Richter (10/28/2014 1:21:00 PM)

    Oh my! How have I lost so many years not knowing of this poet? What a superbly intensive work of art! (Report) Reply

  • Gold Star - 39,822 Points Aftab Alam Khursheed (10/28/2014 2:05:00 AM)

    lovely indeed but lengthy thank you (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 41 Points Tania Montgomery (9/19/2014 6:03:00 PM)

    This poem would have to be the most visually enriching poem of all time. Every line brings visions to its story, its descriptive narrative is fantastic. Though a tragic ending this love poem remains one of the most romantic of all times and every time I read it brings me right back to that first time that brought chills down my spine.
    I love this poem! It should be number one! (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 21 Points Sam H (8/14/2014 6:14:00 AM)

    so sad, made me cry at an early age, too emotive (Report) Reply

  • Veteran Poet - 1,281 Points Piyush Dey (6/30/2014 5:17:00 AM)

    a sad love story written with poetic genius, it is really a fantastic piece.
    it is nothing more than a beautifully crafted and written chronicle of a love that will touch your heart.
    nice read. (Report) Reply

  • Gold Star - 30,378 Points * Sunprincess * (4/27/2014 8:57:00 PM)

    .......omg this is truly amazing and in my honest opinion should be the number one poem on this list of top 500 this truly blows me away.....loved reading every word in every line... (Report) Reply

  • Gold Star - 8,459 Points Herbert Guitang (4/25/2014 7:52:00 AM)

    A true masterpiece kind of poem. One of the greatest poem (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 58 Points Cleveland Gibson (1/20/2014 4:51:00 AM)

    The poem has always been one of my favourites. To salute Alfred Noys I wrote the poem 'After' to capture the mood too. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 12 Points Fiona Schwartzinoff (12/21/2013 9:50:00 PM)

    Loreena McKennit turned this into a song and it is INCREDIBLE! I LOVE it! Both the poem and song! It's gorgeous! (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Barry Williams (8/30/2013 5:24:00 PM)

    When I think back to how this poem tortured me in school, and now it gives me goose bumps when I read it. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Majo Lama (7/20/2013 2:19:00 PM)

    as Marvin replied I didn't know that a single mom can make $4482 in a few weeks on the internet. did you read this web (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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