Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Highwayman

Repost 2010/11

(My favorite poem. It scared my daughter Bonnie when I read it. Both this and The Charge Of The Light Brigade. :) BT)

The wind was a torrent of darkness
among the ghastly 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,
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 purfume
came tumbling over his breast
and he kissed it´s 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
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,
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,
a highwayman comes riding
up to the old inn door.



This is the original version of The Highwayman, copyrighted 1906, 1913.


  1. More than one person has had questions about the poem, wondering exactly how a person bound to a musket of the time - - which were often over 6' long or longer - - could reach the trigger while the barrel was "beneath her breast." I just this moment tried it with a Mosin-Nagant M38 carbine and a Swiss K31 carbine - - I could just barely reach the trigger on the Mosin, and that of the K31 only by contorting my body.

    Probably the only way a woman could do the same was if the musket involved was a blunderbuss or short-barrelled musketoon. Or she used her toe instead of her finger.

  2. If you haven't yet, you should hear Loreena McKennitt sing it -

    1. You jogged my memory and I had it posted on NamSouth in 2008. How the years fly. I'll add it and thanks.

  3. I had never read that one before. Thanks for sharing!

    1. You're welcome and I hadn't read it as a child. Another marvelous one:

      A hundred years in this life span on earth/
      talent and destiny are apt to feud./
      You must go through a play of ebb and flow/
      and watch such things as make you sick at heart/
      Is it so strange that losses balance gains? /

      Kieu sold herself to settle the debt of her family
      Nguyen Du considered the action of joining the new
      government as selling himself
      Kieu had to endure suffering and hardship Nguyen Du suffered greatly because of his loyalty to
      his former king
      Deep in her heart, Kieu stays faithful to Kim
      Nguyen Du was truly loyal to the Le Dynasty
      Finally Kieu was reunited with Kim Trong Nguyen Du hoped for the return of his king