Friday, July 27, 2012

The Highwayman Came Riding . . . Riding . . .

Image credit: Highwayman by Heywoody purchased at 123RF Stock Photo
If you've never read the narrative poem "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes, published in 1906, you've missed a truly romantic story.  The Highwayman and Bess, the Innkeeper's daughter, have a thing going. They meet late at night. He stops by on horseback, knocks on her window, and she leans out. They talk, they kiss, and her lovely long dark hair caresses his face. But, with any story, there is conflict. The Highwayman is a wanted man, because he is in reality a thief. Soldiers come, they set up camp at the Inn, they use Bess as bait to lure him to the trap, she kills herself, using the gun shot and the flash of the powder to warn him and he escapes. The next morning he hears the news, how the lovely Bess killed herself to save her love from the soldiers waiting for him at her home. He's so full of grief at the loss of his love, what does he do? Why, he heads back towards the soldiers and has it out with them, going down in a bloody fight to avenge his true love's death.

The beauty of this romantic story,aside from the Romeo and Juliet storyline, is that it doesn't end there.
The ghost of the highwayman comes riding down the lane, stops and the inn, and knocks on the window. And who's to say a Ghostly Bess doesn't answer his romantic knock?

The poem is in the Public Domain, as it was published before 1923.
So, dear reader, savor it for yourself. The original poem is far better than any retelling;

The Highwayman, by Alfred Noyes: Part I  (Part Two will be in the next Post)

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—
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 the 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 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.

And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked
Where Tim the ostler listened; his face was white and peaked;
His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy 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, I'm after a prize to-night,
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 moonlight,
Watch for me by moonlight,
I'll come to thee by 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 in the dawning; he did not come at noon;
And out o' 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.

In Part two, to be featured in the next Post, Bess is confronted with a horrifying reality as the soldiers lay a trap for her lover as she remembers her love saying at their last parting:

"Watch for me by moonlight; 
I'll come to thee by moonlight, though Hell should bar the way!"

Ah, lovely, tragic and romantic.  When I first heard this beautiful poem, it was being quoted in a movie; Anne of Green Gables. Anne, as a young woman, was at a literary event in someone's parlor, and with her usual dramatic flair, quoted the entire poem with verve and panche. Being a romantic, I was instantly intrigued. On a trip to the library, I found a lovely children's book that illustrated the poem verse by verse, with Bess, the Landlord's daughter and her long dark hair, the highwayman dressed as a romantic hero, and of course the redcoats and the tragedy that follows.

In the years since my first introduction to the highwayman, romance novelists have used this iconic image time and again, painting him to be the romantic hero, the valiant, wronged man fighting for personal vengeance, for the greater good, for true love, for king and country, you name it, the highwayman in romantic fiction novels has done it all. In my own recently published work, Some Enchanted Waltz
I have featured a masked highwayman of sorts who is fighting for his country as a member of the United Irishman, circa 1798, and who gallantly rescues a woman from British soldiers.

The idea of a masked highwayman of another age is appealing for many reasons, the masked man slipping about in the night, dressed in black. A dangerous man, a man outside the law, a man able to sweep a woman away in the darkness, either kidnapping her or rescuing her, depending on your fantasies.

A beautiful musical rendition of The Highwayman is by Lorena McKennitt, on her  Book of Secrets CD. It is truly haunting when sung by McKennitt accompanied by music.
Enjoy it on YouTube

Authors Note: All photographs you find on this blog site (excluding movie screen shots) have been purchased as royalty free images by the following stock agencies:  Dreamstime, istockphoto, 123rf or they are the intellectual property of the author, Lily Silver, who is also a professional photographer.


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