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What do the following metaphors mean in the poem "The Highwayman"?
1) The wind was a torrent of darkness
2) The moon was a ghostly galleon
3) The road was a ribbon of moonlight

Quick answer:

"The Highwayman" begins with a metaphor which helps to establish the tone of the poem. From the first line, there is a sense of ominous anticipation created by the metaphor "the wind was a torrent of darkness." From this metaphor, readers grasp the change that is forthcoming. They also begin to see the wild and reckless nature coming out in this "torrent" of circumstances.

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These three metaphors comprise the first three lines of the poem and set the stage for the tragic events that are about to unfold. The first two lines function largely as very explicit imagery that creates a dark and foreboding mood as the highwayman makes his journey to meet his lover, or the "dark-eyed landlord's daughter." We are given to understand that, because of the nature of the relationship, the night would have to be very dark to allow for such a discreet meeting.

However, it is interesting to note that the "wind," which is a sonic or tactile type of imagery, is given a visual representation as a "torrent of darkness." Similarly, the moon appears as a "ghostly galleon" with clouds obscuring it like fog on a dark sea. These two images convey the foreboding nature of what is about to occur and the chaotic nature of the events, such as the eavesdropping of the mad Tim the ostler, that lead to a climax of blood and vengeance.

The final metaphor is one that is a bit more poignant than it is foreboding. The "ribbon of moonlight" is a description for the road that the highwayman rides to reach the inn and is a representation of the bond that the landlord's daughter and the highwayman share. It is made of moonlight because the two can only meet under the cover of darkness and are struck by a very fleeting romance. The road is a ribbon, as it holds the two together. However, a ribbon is a weak thing that rips and breaks easily when strain is put on it, similarly to the story's romance when societal forces like the law intervene.

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All three of these metaphors contribute to the tone of the poem, which is dark and foreboding.

The wind was a torrent of darkness: Although the wind helps to establish the setting, creating a harsh opening from the first line, it also should be considered symbolically. Wind often connotes a time of change, which both the highwayman and Bess experience before the poem's end. A "torrent" is most often used to describe a fast-moving body of water that is wild and reckless. The deaths of the highwayman and Bess are unexpected and violent. Their lives are drowned in powers of darkness.

The moon was a ghostly galleon: A galleon was a term used for a sailing ship in the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries; it was first used as a warship before transforming to trading purposes. A "ghostly galleon" conjures images of death as well as war. Sailors often use the moon to determine their position on the open ocean. Eventually, Bess "shatter[s] her breast in the moonlight" as she warns the highwayman of the red coats who hold her captive. The highwayman had relied on the moonlight to bring him back to Bess, promising, "I’ll come to thee by moonlight." As it turns out, the moonlight reflects the death of the couple. It leads them to their deaths instead of reunification.

The road was a ribbon of moonlight: The road between the lovers is not a straight and direct path. Instead, it is complicated with many twists and turns. This can perhaps be seen as a metaphor for the relationship between the highwayman and Bess. They traverse difficult territory to be together, facing danger together even as they travel separately. They rely on the moonlight, which is a "ghostly galleon," to lead them back to each other.

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"The wind was a torrent of darkness." In the first line of the poem Noyes is setting the scene for the action that follows. He's trying to create an appropriately dark and sinister atmosphere for the highwayman's imminent arrival. The first line of the poem simply means that it was very dark and windy on that fateful night when the highwayman came riding up to the old inn-door.

"The moon was a ghostly galleon." A galleon is a large ship, the kind you see in countless pirate movies. On that dark, stormy night in which the highwayman rides up to the inn, the moon has a strange, ghostly kind of appearance as it gleams among the storm clouds. The poet wants us to picture the moon as resembling a haunted ghost ship out at sea, tossed about by the crashing waves in the middle of a violent thunderstorm. As with the first line of the poem, this is all about establishing an appropriate atmosphere for the action that follows.

"The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor." It's already been established that the moon is shining. And as the moon casts its light upon the earth, the road on which the highwayman rides his horse appears to have been transformed into a long ribbon of moonlight. In the stormy darkness, lit only by the moonlight, the moor has taken on a kind of purple color. Like all other features of the landscape, it's been completely transformed by the darkness and the moonlight. It's as if a whole new world has suddenly sprung up out of nowhere.

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