The Highwayman – Sesame Street Material (NOT)

February 13, 2011 at 12:18 pm 7 comments

ED NOTE: My contribution to Valentine’s Day!

I have written of my grandmother recently . Grace’s Fur CoatI said that she wasn’t the sort of grandmother upon whom one sat on a lap and cuddled. But she did have her moments. Sundays would find us taking rides out in the car as I mentioned here
After a couple of drinks at lunch in one of the pubs, she would mellow and would sometimes sing me songs. I was about three or four at that time . There were three songs/poems I really remember well,
Who will o’er the downs with me?
O who will o and
another about having one lover instead of two, and yet another of a little black child who wasn’t allowed to play with the white children and his mummy singing to him to comfort him . I would cry and cry at that one. And if we hadn’t reached home or she hadn’t nodded off by that time I would beg for the rendition of the The Highwayman – it was my favourite and if lunch had been lengthy 😉 I would get the whole song—

The Highwayman
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
And the highwayman came riding,
Riding, riding,
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

He’d a French cocked hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin,
A coat of 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.

Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark innyard,
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 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 the moonlight,
Watch for me by the moonlight,
I’ll come to thee by the moonlight, though hell should bar the way.

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 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 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 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
And 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!
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!

Tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horse-hoofs were ringing clear
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!

Tlot in the frosty silence! 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.

He turned; he spurred to the west; he did not know she 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.

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 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.

Still of 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.


Entry filed under: Brit take, everything else, writers and writing. Tags: .

ON “YOUR 92nd Birthday” – Mum- Nana- and Auntie WHO I AM! The artwork speaks – Chris Ritchey

7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mary  |  February 14, 2011 at 3:20 am

    That was one of my favorite poems! That and The Wreck of the Hesperus, The Charge of the Light Brigade and anything by Robert Burns from a Child’s Garden of Verses. As you can see, I had a very interesting repertoire as a child! lol My dad would read these poems to us in the evening! What great memories!

  • 2. Loraine Ritchey  |  February 14, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    Oh the wreck of the Hesperus I loved that one too – Had to learn that one in Canada in English class…… we also had Latin as part of the curriculum- Loraine

  • […] I have always been a “fighter” and “cheer leader” for history, culture, lifestyle and neighborhood, city, countries and world – I wanted to right the wrongs as I perceived them and would rush in ready to do battle. […]

  • 4. Mark Blackburn  |  May 29, 2016 at 1:18 pm

    I was six years old, at home sick with a cold, when my sister, four years older, came home for lunch and quoted from the poem she was studying at school. Alfred Noyes’ THE HIGHWAYMAN. I was so enthused (for reasons my six year old heart couldn’t explain) and wanted to find my own copy. Mom said, “I have one,” and took from the shelf a huge book, the size of the Oxford English Dictionary titled “Shorter Poems,” and there it was! “The Highwayman.” The cadences — like a horse galloping at speed — were part of what made made it so memorable. After reading it aloud to myself a few times, I came downstairs and recited it to my Mom . . . who telephoned Dad at work and said, “Listen to this,” and handed me the phone. About once a decade, if not once a year, I recite it to myself. It wasn’t until a decade ago that I realized this poem speaks to Jesus’ words about “the greatest love” (to lay down one’s life for a friend). The operative words concern “Bess the landlord’s daughter.” And how the “red coat troops” tied her near her bedroom window “and they bound a musket beside her with the barrel beneath her chest” and how, watching “the road on which he would ride,” her fingers “stretched and strained in the darkness” — until at last, “the trigger at least was hers.” “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 in her veins in the moonlight, throbbed to her love’s refrain.” And as “the hours stretched by like years,” hearing the approach of her lover’s horse in the moonlight Bess “shattered her breast in the moonlight, and warned him with her death.” It’s been 60 years since I memorized that poem and recalling it now, just as it did then, reduces me to tears. “But still of a winter’s night, they say / when the wind is in the trees / and the moon is a ghostly galleon, tossed upon cloudy seas, and the road is a ribbon of moonlight, over the purple moor, a highway man comes riding / riding, riding / a highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn door . . . he whistles a tune at the window, and who should be waiting there, but the landlord’s dark eyed daughter / Bess the landlord’s daughter / plaiting a dark red love knot into her long black hair.”

    — Mark Blackburn — Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

  • 5. Mark Blackburn  |  May 29, 2016 at 1:26 pm

    Since I began reciting this at age six I’d need prompting for one stanza — the one that begins “He’d a French-cocked hat on his forehead.” Just realized that the individual who kindly recalled this version left out a stanza themselves. From memory imperfect (more than 60 years ago) “And dark in the dark old inn yard, a stable wicket creaked, where Tim — the hostler listened — his face was white and peaked, his eyes were hollows of madness and his hair was like moldy 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, “One kiss my bonny sweetheart . . .”

    Hope my earlier post showed up.

  • 6. thatwoman  |  May 29, 2016 at 1:47 pm

    thanks Mark I loved this poem –

  • 7. February’s Icy Snowy Full Moon | earthmoonandstars  |  July 11, 2016 at 8:30 am

    […] two graphics above were found here at That Woman’s Weblog, where you can read the entire gut-wrenching, poem of extreme true […]

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