Poetry Breakdown: The Highway Man by Alfredo Noyes

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Highway Man by Alfredo Noyes

Born in England, Alfred Noyes is a popular poet from the turn of the century. Born in 1880, he died in 1958. In those 78 years, he had three children and steady work life. His father was a grocer and teacher. From a modest home, he studied the Latins and Greek at Oxford University.

One of his popular, surviving poems is the Highway Man. Strong leanings towards religion, it is a playful poem. With a romantic them, there is a heart to his poetry that is easily read without christian knowledge. It is also firmly based in the English tradition.

Previous to the invasion by Romans and Normans, there are a long series of stories to warn of danger to the community. The story of the four horsemen of the apocalypse is useful in explaining the habits of supernatural entities.

Beginning the story with common metaphors, the wind is a message spread across the land. The moon foretells of the witching hour. The road is the path we travel. This creates a summary of the events to unfold during the story.

A strong opening stanza is important in writing. While not as common in poetry, yet it makes a nice opening to explain the poem is about a tale of betrayal, a common story to warn everyone of danger. People are people, yet there is a strong statement they are possessed with other-world forces.

The symbolism through color association builds the true meaning of the poems. Purple and gold are a reference to high stature. White, red, black and pale are references to the four horsemen.

"The road was a ribbon of moonlight, over the purple moor." When deciphering this line, it states the story contains witch craft affecting nobility.

The main characters contain features of the horsemen, except for, the soon to be highway man.

"A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin." Claret has an association with wine. During this time, the popular variety was yellow. Yellow is golden in color. The use of gold through the poem references the qualities of the Holy Spirit.

The main character, Bess, is repeatedly described in colors of black and red. She has black eyes and black hair. She has red lips and a red ribbon in her hair. Black representing famine. She is thin. Red the color of war. She is a temptress who is combative.

Tim is her lover. He a white face and moldy hair. White references the conqueror and moldy or ashen hair represents death. With our characters given attributes, it is a play of the four horsemen interacting with humans in another daily situation.

While seeming like a tale of passionate lovers, it is a tale of failures in humanity and brutal punishment. The characters resurrect as ghosts to forewarn against giving into the temptations of the four horsemen: conquer, war, famine and death. Death being the mightiest of all, there is a looming of regret. Tim gains fear from all of his countrymen. Though able to tame one foe, evil is revealed to everyone.

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