A red, hardcover book

The Highwayman, which I have provided below if you have somehow NEVER read this ever (for shame!), is incredibly important to me. Years ago, possibly eons (you don’t know!), my grandfather would come into the small bedroom in his house by the lake that was for all the kids and pull out a beautiful red, hardcover book.This book is full of poems. Some were funny, like the Eletelephony by Laura Elizabeth Richards, and some were frightening like the Jabberwock by Lewis Carrol, and others, others pulled you into them and didn’t let go. One of these poems was The Highwayman written by Alfred Noyes.

My grandfather was truly an amazing man and I miss him still. I wish he were here and I’d like to think he would be proud of his grandchildren, of which there are many.

He would pull out this book and we all (sisters, brothers, cousins, nephews and nieces) would gather around him, hushed instantly. But my grandfather, he had a way about him that made you stop and listen. He knew how to grab your attention without waving his arms in front of your face. It was simple, effective, and beautiful.

He would usually start with a funny poem like Custard the Cowardly Dragon by Ogden Nash. And then, after begging relentlessly, he would read The Highwayman. His voice was instantly captivating as he began to read the first lines: “The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees; the moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas…”

Instantly, I was there on that stretch of sandy highway, pounded hard by thousands of horse hooves. Looking out along the distance I could just begin to make out the Inn where Bess, the Highwayman’s love, lived. I could almost smell her perfume in the air.

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My grandfather was a truly remarkable man. He accomplished more than I ever knew or still know and understand during his lifetime. He was like a sun in the house by the lake, and it has never been the same without him. I still remember the milkshakes he would make for us after a poetry reading even though we were supposed to be going to sleep. Milkshakes don’t taste the same without him.

I have a small piece of his memory though. I have that red hardcover book. I will never let that go and whenever I miss him, I pull out the book and read The Highwayman aloud, trying to match my grandfather’s rhythm. I never get it quite right, but that’s okay. I know he’s there.

Enjoy the poem. It might be the most important piece you have ever read. It is to me.

 

The Highwayman

                                               I

    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— 
                      Riding—riding— 
    The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

                                                 II

    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.

                                                 III

    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.

                                                 IV

    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—

                                                 V

    “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.”

                                                 VI

    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 moonliglt, and galloped away to the West.

 

                                        PART TWO

                                                 I

    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 matching, up to the old inn-door.

                                                 II

    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.

                                                 III

    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 dead 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!

                                                 IV

    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!

                                                 V

    The tip of one finger touched it; she strove no more for the rest! 
    Up, she stood up to attention, with the barrel 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 .

                                                 VI

        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!

                                                 VII

    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.

                                                 VIII

    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 grey 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.

                                                 IX

    Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky, 
    With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high! 
    Blood-red were his spurs i’ 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.

                  *           *           *           *           *           *

                                                 X

    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— 
                      Riding—riding— 
    A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.

                                                 XI

    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.

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2 thoughts on “A red, hardcover book

  1. That is one of my favorite poems – and it has music, at least a couple of versions that I know of. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=teq2m0BN-Wo (albeit a little changed for brevity). ^_^

    One of the other reasons I loved the poem is because Anne of Green Gables recites it as her piece at the poetry recital at Avonlea: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wcAzEea4j-w

    My great-grandmother fulfilled the role for me that your grandfather seems to have filled in your life. I miss that woman.

    Thank you for this. It was lovely reminiscing.

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