The central idea of Alfred Noyes's poem “The Highwayman ” is that forbidden love, as romantic as it may be, will lead to a tragic end. Bess, daughter of the landlord of a local inn, has fallen in love with a dashing highwayman. He is no proper love...
The central idea of Alfred Noyes's poem “The Highwayman” is that forbidden love, as romantic as it may be, will lead to a tragic end. Bess, daughter of the landlord of a local inn, has fallen in love with a dashing highwayman. He is no proper love for her, for he is a bandit, a robber, who carries his pistols and rapier and preys upon unwary travelers. But that does not matter to Bess. She meets him in the dead of night as she leans out the window, letting him kiss her hair.
But someone else is watching and listening in the shadows. The ostler, Tim, stands with white face and hollow, angry eyes as he witnesses the scene of forbidden love before him. He, too, loves Bess. Tim overhears the highwayman say that he will come back by moonlight the next night. Then Tim goes off and does something with this knowledge and his jealous anger: he brings in the soldiers.
The highwayman is a wanted man. The soldiers are pleased to have the opportunity to catch (or better, kill) him, and they set up their watch at the inn. Apparently, Tim has told them that Bess is in love with the highwayman. The soldiers mistreat her, gagging her and tying her to a musket, kissing and taunting her and then leaving her to watch her lover be shot down in the inn yard.
Bess, however, has another plan. She twists around until she finds the trigger of the musket and then waits until she hears her beloved riding up the road. Then she pulls the trigger. The highwayman hears the musket go off, but he has no idea that Bess has died for him at that moment. Alerted to danger, he rides quickly away. But then at dawn he hears what has happened, and he rides back in madness. The soldiers are still waiting, and the highwayman soon lies dead on the highway. The pair of secret lovers has met with only tragedy as a result of their love, and it seems that even their ghosts cannot rest, for on a winter's night when the wind blows and the moon shines, a highwayman comes riding to meet Bess at her window.