“The Highwayman,” by Alfred Noyes is another poem I copied by hand into a commonplace book. That took a while. But there’s something about handwriting a poem, especially a long poem, that really drives the rhythm of it home, makes it indelible, makes it yours. And oh, this poem, the way it builds, and I love the repetition, love reading it aloud. It’s too long to copy here, but you if you haven’t read it before, or lately, go here and read the poem entire.
It seems wrong to excerpt it, especially if you’ve never read it before, but I can’t resist quoting my favorite part, just about the end, so consider this a spoiler alert. (And the formatting isn’t quite right either.)
Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot-tlot, in the echoing night!
Nearer he came and nearer! Her face was like a light!
Her eyes grew wide for a moment; she drew one last deep breath,
Then her finger moved in the moonlight,
Her musket shattered the moonlight,
Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him–with her death.
He turned; he spurred to the west; he did not know who stood
Bowed, with her head o’er the musket, drenched with her own red blood.
Not till the dawn he heard it, 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, shouting 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 was 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 the bunch of lace at his throat.
Romance, adventure, sacrifice–sometimes, that’s exactly what I need, as a poet, and as a reader.