1. noun: a seller of ballads, esp on broadsheets.
2. Noun: a writer of mediocre poetry.
Alfred Noyes was born in England and attended Oxford, where he left before completing his degree. He published his first book of poems, The Loom of Years, at age 21, and published five more volumes of poetry in the next five years. In 1914, he began teaching at Princeton University, and became noted for his criticisms of such Modernist writers as James Joyce. Though his early work often evokes fantastic, dream-like, storybook emotions, his later poetry increasingly deals with religious themes. In “The Highwayman,” one of his best-known poems, Noyes displays his skill at writing narrative poetry reminiscent of his two biggest influences, Wordsworth and Tennyson.
History & Synopsis
"The Highwayman" is a narrative poem written by Alfred Noyes, first published in the August 1906 issue of Blackwood's Magazine, based in Edinburgh, Scotland. The following year it was included in Noyes' collection, Forty Singing Seamen and Other Poems, becoming an immediate success. In 1995 it was voted 15th in the BBC's poll for "The Nation's Favourite Poems".
The poem, set in 18th century England, tells the story of an unnamed highwayman who is in love with Bess, a landlord's (innkeeper) daughter. Betrayed to the authorities by Tim, an ostler (stableman), the highwayman escapes ambush when Bess sacrifices her life to warn him. Learning of her death he dies in a futile attempt at revenge, shot down on the highway. In the final stanza, the ghosts of the lovers meet again on winter nights.
The poem was written on the edge of a desolate stretch of land in West Surrey known as Bagshot Heath, where Noyes, then aged 24, had taken rooms in a cottage. In his autobiography, he recalled: "Bagshot Heath in those days was a wild bit of country, all heather and pinewoods. "The Highwayman" suggested itself to me one blustery night when the sound of the wind in the pines gave me the first line." The poem was completed in about two days.
The poem makes effective use of vivid imagery for the background and of repetitious phrases to create the sense of a horseman riding at ease through the rural darkness to a lovers' tryst or of soldiers marching down the same road to ambush him.
"The Highwayman" is reputed to be "the best narrative poem in existence for oral delivery."
Almost half a century later, Noyes wrote, "I think the success of the poem... was because it was not an artificial composition, but was written at an age when I was genuinely excited by that kind of romantic story."