Please explain the form of the poem "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes.

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Written in 1906, "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes, takes the form of a nineteenth century poem. Noyes liked the structure of poets like Tennyson and Wordsworth.

Danger, outlaws, romance, adventure, death--this poem is packed with excitement along with a riveting story. This tale of love thrills the reader who likes a little supernatural element thrown into the mix of the plot. Actually, the poem could be classified as a ghost story.

The form of the poem repeats itself in every stanza or verse. Each stanza has six lines with the fourth and fifth line shorter than the other lines. Notice also that these lines repeat the same word at the end. The rhyming scheme follows the same pattern for each stanza: AABCCB.

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees, A
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas, A
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor, B
And the highwayman came riding-- C
Riding--riding-- C
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door. B

The poem is really intended to be read aloud.The speaker of the poem tells the story from a third person point.  The poem includes a great example of onomatopoeia or using words to represent the sound of, in this case, the horses hooves.

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

Noyes also uses alliterative words to increase the rhythm of the lines. Almost every line has a consonant repetition:

Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard,

"The Highwayman" [similar to the old English stories] is a criminal hero in the "Robin Hood" vein. Although the highway man breaks the law, the reader still roots for him just as he does for Robin Hood and his merry group of bandits. "Rob from the rich, and give to the poor" thrills the reader even today's world.

Like many romantic stories, this one does not end well for the hero or his "bonny lass." She kills herself to save her lover. When the highwayman finds that the Englishmen have captured and used her to lure him back to her, he goes mad and charges the soldiers. The red coats shoot him down appropriately in the road.

Then, in the vein of "Wuthering Heights," the lovers live on as ghosts who repeat their love story again and again. The highwayman rides up to the window, whistles for his love, and she comes to the window, braiding her long black hair.


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