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The Highwayman-critical essay
The poem “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes is an exhilarating and theatrical poem about love and betrayal. The poet uses four main themes in the poem, love, betrayal, loyalty and death each of these make your knowledge and understanding clearer when reading the poem. The variety of imagery Noyes uses creates an atmosphere, sets the scene and gives you a clearer picture in your head of what the characters look like and also gives you a better description of the noises you would hear. This makes the poem much more pleasurable for the person reading it.
“The Highwayman” is set in England and tells the story of a man who robs travellers of their most treasured possessions. This crook does not have a name and is known only as “the highwayman”. He is obviously wealthy as the poet describes how well dressed he is
“He’d a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin, A coat of claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin”.
The highwayman has a secret lover, whom he meets every night. Her name is Bess and she is the landlord’s daughter. However the ostler at the Inn, Tim, is also in love with Bess. He is uncontrollably jealous of the highwayman and tells the Redcoats from the army how they can seize him. The Redcoats set up an ambush, but Bess tragically dies while trying to warn her lover about the danger. Mad with grief, the highwayman gallops back to the Inn where he too, is shot down. The poem ends with the idea that the ghosts of the two young lovers still meet at the Inn, a hundred years on.
There are four main themes in the poem, love, betrayal, loyalty and death.
Love is clearly shown when Bess tragically killed herself to warn her lover that he was in danger.
Betrayal is shown when Tim, the ostler went to the Redcoats and told them how they could capture the infamous highwayman.
Loyalty is revealed when the highwayman risked his own life by riding down to the Inn to get try and get revenge at the Redcoats for making Bess kill herself, but unfortunately he was shot down as well.
The theme of death is also shown when Bess killed herself to warn her lover.
In this poem the poet uses a variety of imagery such as simile, metaphor, onomatopoeia, repetition and personification.
The poet uses simile to help create a clear picture of the characters, an example of simile is:
“Her face was like a light.”
This simile is effective because it tells you Bess’ facial expression and what type of mood she was in.
One simile Noyes uses shows what Tim the ostler looked like:
“His hair like mouldy hay.”
This simile is effective because it tells you that Tim’s hair was dirty, untidy and it was so bad it was starting to look like mould.
The poet uses metaphor at the beginning of the poem to create an atmosphere and to set the scene, an example of a metaphor is:
“The moon was a ghostly galleon”
This is effective because it creates an eerie atmosphere.
Another metaphor used by Noyes to create an atmosphere is:
“The wind was a torrent of darkness.”
This metaphor also creates an eerie atmosphere.
Noyes uses onomatopoeia to tell you what noise is being made, an example of this is:
This is effective because it tells you what the noise sounded like and gives the impression that the noise was quite loud.
Another use of onomatopoeia used by Noyes to tell the sound is:
This is effective because we can relate to this noise and we understand it.
The poet uses repetition to make people more aware of the description of an object or atmosphere. An example of repetition is:
“Blank and bare in the moonlight.”
This is effective because this also creates an eerie atmosphere and you can imagine the scene in your head.
Noyes uses personification to relate objects to people, an example of personification is:
“There was death at every window.”
This is effective because although there can’t be death at a window, it gives the reader the idea that there was danger waiting to occur at the window.
I personally enjoyed the poem as the four themes were portrayed well and the poet gave more than one reason to believe that it was a ghostly atmosphere, I also think that the poem was written clearly as I felt I could understand every part of the poem.
To sum up the poem “The Highwayman” has four main themes these are love, betrayal, loyalty and love the poet uses a variety of imagery which includes simile, metaphor, onomatopoeia, repetition and personification. The imagery plays a big part in this poem as it makes you understand it better. My favourite theme in the poem is love as it showed how people would act when in love and what they would do for one another. Overall I enjoyed “The Highwayman” because it explained what different people would do in certain situations and how people can b so in love they would do anything for each other.
Clearly, the heroine did not kill herself, but she was killed by someone else.
Actually if you read the poem properly I think you'll find that Bess killed herself to warm her lover not to come any closer -
"Then her finger moved in the moonlight,
Her musket shattered the moonlight,
Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him--with her death."
The essay is a really good summary of what Noyes was trying to achieve in his poem, it identifies the key themes, writing techniques and language used. I hope you do/did well!