The wind was a torrent of darkness Among the gusty trees The moon was a ghostly galleon Tossed upon the cloudy seas The road was a ribbon of moonlight Over the purple moor When the highwayman came riding Riding, riding, The highwayman came riding Up to the old inn door
He'd a french cocked hat at his forehead A bunch of lace at his chin A coat of claret velvet And breeches of brown doe-skin They fitted with nary a wrinkle His boots were up to the thigh And he rode with a jeweled twinkle His pistol butts a-twinkle His rapier hilt a-twinkle Under the jeweled sky
And over 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
"One kiss my bonny sweetheart I'm after a prize tonight But I should 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 the moonlight Watch for me by the moonlight I'll come to thee by the moonlight Though hell should bar the way."
He rose up right in the stirrups He scarce could reach her hand But she loosened her hair in the casement His face burned like a brand As a black cascade of perfume Came tumbling over his breast And he kissed its waves in the moonlight Oh, sweet waves in the moonlight He tugged at his rein in the moonlight And galloped away to the west
He did not come at the dawning He did not come at noon And out of the tawny sunset Before the rise of the moon When the road was a gypsy's ribbon Looping the purple moor A redcoat troop came marching Marching, marching King George's men came marching 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 the casement With muskets at their side There was death at every window Hell at one dark window For Bess could see through the 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 the moonlight Watch for me by the moonlight I'll come to thee by the moonlight Though hell should bar the way."
She twisted her hands behind her But all the knots held good! But she writhed her hands 'til 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 her finger touched it The trigger at least was hers
Tot-a-lot, tot-a-lot had they heard it? The horse's hooves rang clear Tot-a-lot, tot-a-lot in the distance Were they deaf they did not hear? Down the ribbon of moonlight Over the brow of the hill The highwayman came riding Riding, riding The redcoats looked to their priming She stood up straight and still
Tot-a-lot in the frosty silence Tot-a-lot in the echoing night Nearer he came and nearer Her face was like a light Her eyes grew wide for a moment She drew a 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 she stood Bowed with her head o'er 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
And 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 the spurs in the golden noon Wine-red was his velvet coat When they shot him down in the highway Down like a dog on the highway And he lay in his blood in the highway With a bunch of lace at his throat
Still on a winter's night they say When the wind is in the trees When the moon is a ghostly galleon Tossed upon the 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
Lyrics from a song in Public Domain
Rudy Mares from Oak Hills, CaliforniaThis is great song. All be it, tragic, and somewhat heroic, in the sense, that they are reunited in the end, for all eternity.
Rick from CaliforniaThe Highwayman by Alfred Noyes has been set to music many times. I have drawn upon the 1960s' balladeer Phil Ochs' masterful and most passionate musical interpretation for this rendition: youtu.be/A9fWjzYiRUE I published my own interpretation of The Highwayman to Soundcloud just before Christmas 2016. As I write this, 16 people have heard it. https://soundcloud.com/rick-masters/the-highwayman-by-alfred-noyes Others seem to me to be constrained by cadence or forced style. The best would be Loreena McKennitt's popular, Celtic-influenced version: youtu.be/w3rMG6j7mhA And then there is this conventional version by Don Partridge, the English folksinger, which I find tedious: youtu.be/mZLhYmG8Fnc
David Slifkin from Eugene OrO.K. The version of Highwayman sung by Loreena McKennitt is simple. So is the meaning. Misguided romanticism and crooks with gangster molls! What a laugh! You miss the point. Bonnie and Clyde too! Yes, there are some really screwed up people in the world. But LOVE comes in all shapes. It is not perfect. That is the touching brilliance of the song. The contradiction of morality is why it is so powerful. Two people have a perfect moment in an imperfect world!
Ginger-lyn Summer from OhioI must not have read the same poem or heard the same song as you did (Phil Ochs' version, too). This is one of my favorite poems, and I *am* a poet (complete with a Creative Writing degree). It is considered by many to be one of the finest examples of romantic narrative ever written -- a sentiment with which I agree. The romantic notion of the outlaw as hero is part of the human psyche, and has been around probably since Socrates and right on up to the present day. At heart, this is a love story, about two lovers who meet tragedy. It is, indeed, tragic, as it must be, given the characters and setting. The highwayman "pays" for his crimes ultimately, but his life is ended because of love, not villainy. I find the characterization of Bess as "no better than a mobster's moll" jaw-dropping. She is portrayed as a lovely girl, the daughter of a man in good-standing, and her only fault is that she falls in love with a man destined to meet a tragic fate one way or another.
You do this well-loved poem, and the musical versions of it (McKennitt's being better than Ochs', much as I hate to say it, being a major Phil Ochs fan) a great disservice by your judgmental, snippy review.