The Highwayman

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The Highwayman

By | October 2010
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‘The Highwayman” is considered to be a narrative poem because it is about two people in love with each other. This poem starts out with a highwayman visiting his love Bess at her father's inn. He's on the move so he only has time for one kiss. He promises that he'll be back by the next night at the latest. The next evening, instead of the highwayman, some British soldiers show up. They drink a bunch of beer, they tie up Bess, and then they wait at the windows to shoot the highwayman when he comes back. Then, when she hears the highwayman's horse, she fires the gun, and gives her life to warn him about the ambush. The highwayman tries to get away, but it doesn't work. In the end, both lovers are dead.

The main characters, Bess and the Highwayman, face many problems as lovers. One problem is that the Highwayman is a robber, and Bess is the Landlord’s daughter. They can’t actually solve this problem because of their background, but they keep on seeing each other. A second problem is that there is another man in love with Bess. They don’t find out until the end, when it’s too late, and they die. This behavior tells me that they love each other very much.

The dominant theme of the poem is imagery. The first part is Love is a torrent; the moon a galleon; Bess's hair is "waves in the moonlight", a "cascade" of perfume; indicating the forces of love and the way in which the Highwayman, like the galleon, is subject to the overwhelming power of passions that ebb, flow, surge and crash within the human heart. Consider the contrasts between the lovers Bess and the Highwayman and the jealous and covetous Tim the Osler. Bess and the Highwayman are associated with life, the corpse-like Tim with death. Bess's eyes are black, whereas Tim's are "hollows of madness"; she is "red-lipped" whereas Tim's face is white; Tim's cheek is peaked whereas the Highwayman’s face burnt like a brand. This imagery helps us paint a picture of what is happening with the two lovers, an a...