Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Highwayman

Prompted by Draynee's request, here is my submission for your humble consideration. However, I am taking myself out of the 'contest' part because JD mentioned something about rules, and I think there are rules, and well, my personal philosophy is the first rule of dressing up is you don't talk about dressing up. No, wait. That's not right. Just that, for costumes, not gear, I have a hard time adhering to rules.

It's been a few years, not many, since I last read 'The Highwayman' by Alfred Noyes. Now it's easy to dismiss it as overly romantic tripe, but for some reason, I could not be so snarky this year. It's just a lovely and simple piece of work that has stood the test of time. It has what I love to classify as 'accessible themes.' But enough of literary analysis: enjoy.

Oh, and after you read the poem, watch this amazing animation: The Highwayman
Bess, the Innkeeper's Daughter
The Highwayman

Tim the Ostler*

The Highwayman

by Alfred Noyes

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 jeweled twinkle,
   His pistol butts a-twinkle,
His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jeweled sky.

Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard, 
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 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, 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 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 in 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 of the tawny sunset, before the rise of the moon,
When the road was a gypsy's ribbon, looping the purple moor,
A red-coat 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 her casement, with muskets at their side. 
There was death at every window;
   And hell at one dark window;
For Bess could see, through her 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 doomed man say—
Look for me by moonlight;
   Watch for me by moonlight;
I'll come to thee by 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!

The tip of one finger touched it. She strove no more for the rest. 
Up, she stood up to attention, with the muzzle beneath her breast.
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 of her veins, in the moonlight, throbbed to her love's refrain.
Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horse-hoofs ringing clear;
Tlot-tlot, 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-tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot-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 who 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 gray 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, shouting a curse to the sky, 
With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high!
Blood-red were his spurs in 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.
And still of a winter's night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon 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.
Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard;
He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred;
He whistles 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.

*There was no way Tim the Ostler could be a Draenei. Back to that rules thing.

And the French cocked-hat doesn't work with Draenei horns...alas.


  1. That was wonderful! I had to do it the wrong way round though, did the visual first so the writing would make sense to me, I always get pictures best. And I see what you mean, Tim the ostler really needed to be Undead, sometimes breaking rules works best!

    1. As my writing mentor and friend says, sometimes you just gotta call "Rule 10," make your own rules! And thank you for making me notice my typo of the spelling of oh man am I getting fuzzy brained!

  2. I love that poem. Way back when I was younger and had pigtails and red patent shoes, every Boxing Day my family would gather and amidst masks and ivy and wine would play act and tell stories. One year my Grandmother and Grandfather acted out with much ad-libbing this poem. Reading it back now, it brings back so many memories.

    1. What an amazing memory, and now even more reason to love this poem, imagining your grandparents acting out the roles - and why does Boxing Day sometimes sound like more fun than Christmas day?

  3. Oh no! Rules does sound pretty un-fun. I changed it to 'Fine Print' but /sigh...

    Your costumes are wonderful, they go with the poem beautifully! Tim as undead is perfect :)

    1. Well, it's the cloth versus leather versus etc. and I have no issue with rules, but needed to 'cheat' to execute this vision, so didn't want to be considered for prizes, etc. That is not fair, since I can be a cheater-cheater-pumpkin-eater on occasion. So glad you like the trio, and thanks for sponsoring this!

  4. If you enjoy adaptions of The Highwayman, you might also like

    - made by, amongst other people, an old friend of mine who now works on the cinematics at Bioware!

    1. Thank you! That is just lovely, and I especially like the use of Alfred Noyes in the piece - well done, and cheers to your friend!


Thank you for your comment!