This poem has been singing itself inside my head for the past few weeks. I’ve been playing a lot of cards and listening to a lot of music and typing out a lot of words, and all those things have a rhythm to them –the shuffling of the cards, the beat of the music, the way the right word against another right word can turn a sentence into a song– and this poem is all rhythm, so maybe that’s why. But every time this poem comes into my head, my grandfather also comes into my head. He was a farmer who didn’t finish high school (maybe he didn’t even go to high school, I’m not sure), but he knew a bunch of poetry by heart, and sometimes he would pull us onto his lap and recite it to us. This is the exact kind of poem, old-school and with that gallop behind the lines, that he would have recited. My grandfather wore blue coveralls in the barn, and a sharp suit and hat when he went out, and he was tall and lean and goodlooking, and I still miss him.
by Alfred Noyes
The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding—
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.
He’d a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin,
A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin.
They fitted with never a wrinkle. His boots were up to the thigh.
And he rode with a jewelled twinkle,
His pistol butts a-twinkle,
His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.
Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard.
He tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred.
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.
And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked
Where Tim the ostler listened. His face was white and peaked.
His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay,
But he loved the landlord’s daughter,
The landlord’s red-lipped daughter.
Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say—
“One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I’m after a prize to-night,
But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light;
Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,
Then look for me by moonlight,
Watch for me by moonlight,
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.”
He rose upright in the stirrups. He scarce could reach her hand,
But she loosened her hair in the casement. His face burnt like a brand
As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast;
And he kissed its waves in the moonlight,
(O, sweet black waves in the moonlight!)
Then he tugged at his rein in the moonlight, and galloped away to the west.
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