Alfred Noyes

(16 September 1880 – 25 June 1958 / Wolverhamton)

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The Highwayman


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.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003
Edited: Friday, October 28, 2011

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  • 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

  • * 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 poems....wow this truly blows me away.....loved reading every word in every line... (Report) Reply

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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 page...........www.zee44.com (Report) Reply

  • Joe Hazle (5/9/2013 2:44:00 PM)

    One of the most best poems ever created, absolutely beautiful, very sad but lovely change from love to sacrifice to ghost. (Report) Reply

  • Rose Wilder (3/26/2013 7:21:00 AM)

    I love this poem! Beautiful, wonderful, amazing...they hardly go far enough. The power of love is amazing. (Report) Reply

  • Betty Puzynski (1/14/2013 11:11:00 PM)

    My brother Arthur Anuada recited this poem at his high school graduation ceremony. He recited it so beautifully that his friends nickname him The Highwayman He passed away very young and on his tombstone the title The Highwayman was engraved. (Report) Reply

  • Vandna Kapoor (11/26/2012 3:27:00 AM)

    Beautiful! amazing! wonderful aren't enough to express how great is this poem its love and pain...its pain and love...its life and death and a love story that never ends... For the last 30 years this poem has lived very lose to my heart! ! ! Hats off Alfred Noyes for this classic poem a great legendary piece of work! God Bless the highway man and Bess the landlord's daughter who died and lived for her love and he who came back again and again to die for his beloved..... a death that was preferred over many lives........... (Report) Reply

  • Gouwa Sheldon (11/11/2012 11:36:00 AM)

    i have loved this poem ever since i was introduced to it bny my grade 7 teacher..MRS HERCULES in 1978! ! ! she coached me as i had to recite this poem for the inspector...it has been etched in my mind since then and whenever i recited it...everyone was simply..SWEPT AWAY! ! ! ..TODAY..I received the SURPRISE CALL of my LIFE! ! ! My teacher, Mrs Hercules, aged 70, called me! ! ! i nearly dropped my phone and jumped off the couch! ! ! thank you mrs Hercules..i am so honoured and Blessed! ! ! xxxxxxxxxxx much love...Gouwa Sheldon (South Africa) (Report) Reply

  • Jetty J Newnham (9/15/2012 9:50:00 AM)

    I remember this poem from my childhood, I'm sure my Mother read it to me along with stories by Jack London all very dramatic. (Report) Reply

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