The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes

by tirial

One of my favourite poems is the Highwayman by Alfred Noyes. This is a tribute with notes and details about the work.

The Highwayman is a narrative poem. Written in 1906 by Alfred Noyes, it tells the story of a Highwayman, his true love, Bess and the jealous ostler who comes between them.

A tragic poem "The Highwayman" is famous for its use of repetition and rhythm. It remains popular, has been translated into other forms, and is often studied in schools.

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About "The Highwayman"

A brief history of the poem

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.

"The Highwayman" Alfred Noyes

Written in 1906 the Highwayman is a narrative poem by Alfred Noyes. Both romantic and tragic, its unusual use of repetition is part of its enduring appeal.

"The Highwayman" tells the story of the highwayman, his true love Bess and the man who betrays them to the King's Army with disastrous consequences. This poem is probably Alfred Noyes' best work and the one often studied in schools. There have been debates about whether it is suitable for younger children - after all, both main characters die and the highwayman is a criminal - but its atmosphere and use of language ensures that it has remained popular.

The Highwayman in Print

The Highwayman - Alfred Noyes

"The Highwayman" is a narrative poem written by Alfred Noyes, The poem tells the story of a nameless highwayman who is in love with the landlord's daughter named Bess. Tim, the ...

Shamrock Eden Publishing

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The Highwayman (Visions in Poetry)

The Highwayman is the second book in a unique series -- Visions in Poetry -- featuring classic poems illustrated by outstanding contemporary artists. Originally published in 190...

Kids Can Press  / Only $10.34

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The Highwayman by Noyes, Alfred New Edition (1999)

OUP Oxford  / Only $28.04

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The Highwayman: A Novel Inspired by Alfred Noyes' Poem

Dashing and arrogant highwayman, Jeremy Knox, survives his bloody encounter with King George's soldiers . . . barely. The prison theft of his clothes and the unexpected help of ...

AuthorHouse  / $13.5  $8.44

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Alfred Noyes reading the Highwayman

Created by Poetry reconstructions, this uses a 1929 audio recording of Noyes reading his poem as the soundtrack.

A historical curio

The highwayman was written in 1906, but still harks back to an earlier age. The references to Redcoats and King George's men dates it to some time in the seventeenth century, at the latest 1845.

Much like pirates, highwayman have been romanticised by history. Although many of them dressed well, and had cash to spare courtesy of their career, they were violent, and not well respected. While the poem is fictional it is strange to think that the locals at the time this was set would have been cheering for the Redcoats who were dealing with a violent thug. Bess would have been viewed as closer to a gangster's moll than a romantic heroine.

Set to Music

A poem sung

Because of its lyrical rhythm and phrasing, the poem has often been adapted to music. Unfortunately these adaptions often miss out verses or change the words to fit the music, which means that although they tell the same story they do not always remain true to their source material.

Read aloud, the poem itself already has a notable meter and rhythm, and the best musical adaptions work with this. Noyes himself said that it was meant to mimic the sound of a horse's hooves.

One of the most commonly available versions is Loreena McKennit's, which stays largely true to the poem with a few minor changes to fit the lyrics to music (e.g. "He did not know who stood" was changed to "He did not know she stood").

Loreena McKennit's Highwayman

An extrmely popular version of the highwayman set to music

The Highwayman

If you want the full track, it is on the highly-rated album Book of Secrets
The Book of Secrets

Canadian singer/composer Loreena McKennitt is self-managed, self-produced, and the head of her own internationally successful record label, Quinlan Road. In a recording career s...

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Author's Note

(This article was originally available from Squidoo on Following that site's closure I have relocated it here with additional content.)

Other works by Alfred Noyes

Although the Highwayman was Alfred Noyes' best known work, it was not his only poem. His later works included a short story about the Lusitania and other acclaimed works.

Do you remember the Highwayman from school, or have another poem of his that you prefer? Please share your views below:

Updated: 08/22/2014, tirial
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