‘The Highwayman’

We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. By continuing we’ll assume you’re on board with our cookie policy

Alfred Noyes was born in 1880. The Welsh coast and mountains where he grew up were an early inspiration for his work. Noyes started writing poetry in the early 1900’s, his most popular yet is “The Highwayman”, a touching story of love, tragedy and jealousy in which two lovers are parted by death. It is a beautiful romantic poem, where the words flow like silk and from the first line you are entranced. He is one of the few contemporary poets who have been fortunate enough to write a kind of poetry that is not only saleable but popular with many classes of people.

The Highwayman” is indeed stereotypical in its representation of a fairytale romance which comes to life in the dark of night. Noyes creates an exciting secret love affair between a traditionally unlikely couple. This forbidden relationship makes the plot more intense, drawing the reader in. Noyes uses stereotypical characters who’s roles are instantly recognisable as either good or evil. Bess, a landlord’s daughter and the love object of the poem is typically beautiful and desirable. She is “Red-lipped” with “long black hair” which is described as a “cascade of perfume”.

The highway man is also particularly stereotypical because he is handsome, charming and brave. A heroic gentleman, he is perfect in both appearance and manner. His boots are fitted with “never a wrinkle” and his armour is studded with jewels. Tim, the ostler is a minor character yet he is the one who tears the lovers apart in a jealous rage. Again he is a stereotypical “baddie” as he is ugly and filthy. His hair is like “mouldy hay” and his ‘white and peaked” face along with his hollow eyes show us that he is ill and evil. ‘The Highwayman’ is also stereotypically melodramatic in its dramatic description.

Alfred Noyes has cleverly used a night-time setting, something that is often associated with drama. There are many references to darkness, blackness and the moon which create an exciting and romantic atmosphere keeping the reader in suspense. The first lines which include powerful metaphors such as “The wind was a torrent of darkness” and “The moon was a ghostly galleon” entice you to read on. Words such as ‘ghostly’, ‘hell’, ‘blood’ and ‘death’ suggest a sense of danger. This is stereotypical because no fairytale story of love and separation is complete without a hint of danger. The Highwayman’ contains a lot of repetition e. g. “And the highwayman came riding riding riding” and “A red-coat troop came marching marching marching”. Repetition adds intensity and emphasis to the poem. Alfred Noyes presents a series of dramatic pictures. For example, “She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood” and also “like a dog on the highway”. Using tension in a poem is an effective way to keep the reader interested and in this poem it is created because we have to conclude that Tim betrayed the highwayman.

Tension has the effect of making us read closely as we are intrigued to find out what will happen next. Although being filled with betrayal and grief there is also a strong esence of love and romance portrayed. Bess and the highway man’s love affair must be kept a secret. They have to meet in the night so they will not be found out. The legend of their souls haunting the moors together “when the wind is in the trees” is a rather romantic image. The effect of the returning lovers is romantic and it softens the tragedy of their deaths.

The setting is romantic: an old inn and the constant talk of moonlight: “The road was a ribbon of moonlight”, “Watch for me by the moonlight”, “And he kissed its waves in the moonlight” and “For the road lay bare in the moonlight” . It is clear to see the love between Bess and the highway man. Their love is strong enough for Bess to give her own life to save the highwayman’s. The highwayman is seen as a romantic figure who wears rich, jewelled clothes and a dignified “bunch of lace at his chin”. Effective language also adds to the romance of the poetry which brings the story to life in the readers mind.

The moon is a symbol of love and this image is used several times. One phrase which sticks in the mind is “the blood of her veins….. throbbed to her love’s refrain” as this embodies their love for one another. Alliteration, “Ghostly galleon” and “Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed” as well as onomatopoeia, “tlot-tlot, tlot-tlot” add to the romance. Love does not get any stronger than the love shown in the poem. The line “Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him- with her death” shows how powerful love can be.

Bess was past caring about her own life. She cared for her lover so much to the point where she would sacrifice her own existence to keep him alive. Treachery is present in the poem. Tim, the ostler is a deceitful and disloyal character. He is the villain of the poem and it is due to Tim that both Bess and the highwayman are killed. While working in the stable at the inn he listened to the highwayman and Bess’ private conversation. The fact that he was eavesdropping shows us he is untrustworthy. Out of jealously he betrayed them to King Georges men.

Tim is a stereotypical evil character and we can imagine that he is always being mischievous. His description brings to mind a sly looking man who sits quietly plotting an evil plan. the simile “dumb as a dog he listened” supports this idea. Tim loved Bess enough to have someone else killed so this love may be returned. He was extremely jealous of the highway man and when he heard them talking of meeting in the night he took this opportunity to get rid of the him. Unfortunately his plan resulted in Bess’s death as Tim did not consider how much Bess loved the highway man.

The Highway man is the hero of the poem. In the first verse he is seen riding courageously toward the inn to see Bess his lover. He is a figure of romantic associations and a dare-devil. When he heard his lover had been killed he “spurred like a madman” to seek revenge on whoever had killed Bess without caring for his own safety. A heroine is described as a women noted or admired for nobility or courage. On these grounds Bess could definitely be called a heroine. She gave her own life to save someone she loved.

She pulled the trigger of the gun and “warned him-with her death”. This is not a stereotypical view of a woman as females are usually not considered brave and heroic. This makes ‘The Highwayman’ a twist making it more interesting. Bess takes control before the highway reaches her and we can admire her for this. ‘The Highwayman’ is a sad tale of death. Both deaths in the poem are very tragic. The first, Bess’s was a selfless act to save a loved one and the second, the highwayman’s, happened when he returned to the scene to seek revenge on whoever caused his lovers’ death.

In some ways you could say that the two lovers were re-united by death and legend says that the souls of the two lovers are still sometimes seen haunting the moors whenever the moon is “a ghostly galleon, tossed upon cloudy seas”. Noyes’s constant use of the word ‘black’ symbolises death. This could be an early prediction of their fate. Bess is “Black-eyed” and “plaits a dark red love-knot into her long black hair” whilst the highwayman always rides during the darkest hours. Another sign that both lovers will die is the phrase “There was death at every window”.

The “purple moor” and the “red-coat troop” are symbols of blood which is often associated with death. Although ‘The Highwayman’ is very stereotypical there are some factors which oppose this view. For example Bess is not portrayed as a feeble woman waiting to be saved. She takes matters into her own hands and acts very heroically to save her lover. It is also important to recognise that the use of the colours black and white are reversed. Instead of white symbolising goodness and purity it is used to describe Tim’s evil face. On the other hand, Bess, the heroin and innocent character is associated with the colour black.

Tagged In :

Get help with your homework

Haven't found the Essay You Want? Get your custom essay sample For Only $13.90/page

Sarah from CollectifbdpHi there, would you like to get such a paper? How about receiving a customized one?

Check it out