Critical Essay on “The Highwayman”
“The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes is a ballad about how Bess, the landlord’s daughter, sacrifices herself for the love of the highwayman. The poet describes the atmosphere of the moor by night and conveys the suspense of the situation when the redcoats come to arrest the highwayman. He does this by use of effective imagery, clever word choice, sound effects and rhythm.
The poem takes place on a stormy night:
“The wind was a torrent of darkness.”
This metaphor is effective in creating an eerie atmosphere as it suggests the wind is blustery and it is very dark.
The atmosphere is further developed with a description of the moon:
“The moon was a ghostly galleon.”
This image creates a spooky, mysterious setting. The moon was pale in the night sky and surrounded by a “sea” of clouds.
The atmosphere was even more developed by a description of the road:
“The road was a ribbon of moonlight”
This suggests that the road was long, straight and it reflected the light of the moon.
Alfred Noyes uses clever word choice to describe the romantic figure of the highwayman. The poem gives the indication that the highwayman is very particular about his appearance. He wore a “bunch of lace at his chin” which suggests to the reader that he is classy. His coat is “claret velvet” which tells the reader he has a lot of money since claret wine is very expensive. Even his weapons are clean and well looked after:
This shows us that all his weapons are very well cared for and are shiny. All of these help us to imagine the romantic figure of the highwayman.
Alfred Noyes uses alliteration and onomatopoeia effectively to create tension in the poem.
“Over the cobbles, he clattered and clashed”
The use of alliteration makes these three words stand out from the rest of the sentence.