The Highwayman

I love music. I tend to have very eclectic tastes. I listen to everything from Nine Inch Nails (my personal favorite) to the Beatles (my all time favorite). Of late I have been particularly interested in any song that I can sing to MJ as I put her down for her naps. These songs don’t have to necessarily be thematically appropriate, as she has no idea what I’m saying, but it’s the melody that counts. Ever since the Blog Blast for Peace had be on a Dylan kick, I’ve been thinking of Phil Ochs.

Not many people know Phil Ochs. He was a fairly obscure folk singer, or as he called himself a “topical singer”. He was quite prolific in his anti-war and civil rights activities and wrote many beautiful and stirring songs on both topics. He also, however, greatly appreciated good poetry. He claimed that some poems were really songs in disguise and he put them to music. “The Highwayman” is one of those songs. It was written in 1906 by Alfred Noyes and it a wonderful example of lyric poetry.

While the story of this poem is perhaps not the best bedtime singing material, I was never (too badly) scarred by having Edgar Allen Poe’s “Tell Tale Heart”, “The Mask of the Red Death” or “Cask of Amantillado” read to me before going to bed (although it may explain a lot, now that I think about it), and this song itself is just beautiful to hear. I wish I could include and MP3 or even a sound bite with this post, but if you’re moved enough by the lyrics perhaps you’ll go out and find a Phil Ochs album, although they may be hard to come by.

The Highwayman

The wind was a torrent of darkness
Among the gusty trees
The moon was a ghostly galleon
Tossed upon cloudy seas
And the road was a ribbon of moonlight
Over the purple moor
And the highwayman came riding, riding, riding
Yes, the highwayman came riding
Up to the old inn door
Over the cobbles he clattered
And clashed in the darkened yard
And he tapped with his whip at the window
But all was locked and barred
So 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
One kiss, my bonny sweetheart
For I’m after a prize tonight
But I shall be back with the yellow gold
Before the morning light
Yet if they press me sharply
Harry me through the day
Oh, then look for me by moonlight
Watch for me by moonlight
And I’ll come to thee by moonlight
Though Hell should bar the way
He did not come at the dawning
No, he did not come at the noon
And out of the tawny sunset
before the rise of the moon
When the road was a gypsy’s ribbon
Looping the purple moor
Oh a redcoat troop came marching, marching, marching
King George’s men came marching
Up to the old inn door
And they bound the landlord’s daughter
with many a sniggering jest
And they bound the musket beside her
With the barrel beneath her breast
Now keep good watch and they kissed her
She heard the dead man say
“Oh look for me by moonlight
Watch for me by moonlight
And I’ll come to thee by moonlight
Though Hell should bar the way”
Look for me by moonlight
Hoof beats ringing clear
Watch for me by moonlight
Were they deaf that they did not hear
For he rode on the gypsy highway
She breathed one final breath
Then her finger moved in the moonlight
Her musket shattered the moonlight
And it shattered her breast in the moonlight
And warned him with her death
Oh he turned; he spurred on to the west
He did not know who stood
Out with her black hair a flowing down
Drenched with her own red blood
Oh not ’til the dawn had he heard it
And his face grew gray 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
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 in the golden noon
Wine red 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 a bunch of lace at his throat
And still on 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
Oh the highwayman comes riding, riding, riding
Yes the highwayman comes riding
Up to the old inn door.


~ by CableGirl on Saturday, July 7, 2007.

4 Responses to “The Highwayman”

  1. Fond memories of Poe *lub dub, lub dub*–anything to interest an avid reader. Ah! I remember Phil Ochs, his haunting poetry and angry anti-war tirades. I have his “Early Years” cd and love it–did you give it to me?

  2. Didn’t Johnny Cash do a cover of this? I’m pretty sure…will have to check later.

    Speaking of Cash, I used to babysit for a two year old…and one day I just could not take anymore of his shows so I was flipping through and was watching MTV…Johnny Cash’s video for “Hurt” came on and the kid stopped in his tracks (he was dancing to Red Hot Chili Peppers) and just stood stock still staring at the tv screen…for the entire song. Just stood their completely mesmorized.

  3. I’ve always loved the poem, but sadly I’ve never head of Phil Ochs. I’ll have to check it out…

  4. I am a lover of the poem too, but never heard it set to music.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: