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Speaking of the Writer's Almanac
Posted by: Pam Adams (---)
Date: September 16, 2003 01:33PM

It's the birthday of poet and scholar Alfred Noyes, born in Wolverhampton, England (1880).

I think this is the first poem that I ever knew. (as opposed to nursery rhymes)

pam

The Highwayman
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--
Riding--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 jeweled twinkle,
His pistol butts a-twinkle,
His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jeweled 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 moldy 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 tonight,
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,
(Oh, sweet black waves in the moonlight!)
Then he tugged at his rein in the moonlight, and galloped away to the West.

He did not come in the dawning; he did not come at 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,
A red-coat troop came marching--
Marching--marching--
King George's men came marching, up to the old inn-door.

They said no word to the landlord, they drank his ale instead,
But they gagged his daughter and bound her to the foot of her narrow bed;
Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets at their side.
There was death at every window;
And hell at one dark window;
For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.

They had tied her up to attention, with many a sniggering jest.
They had bound a musket beside her, with the barrel beneath her breast.
"Now keep good watch!" and they kissed her. She heard the doomed man say--
Look for me by moonlight;
Watch for me by moonlight;
I'll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way!

She twisted her hands behind her; but all the knots held good.
She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood.
They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like years,
Till, now, on the stroke of midnight,
Cold, on the stroke of midnight,
The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!

The tip of one finger touched it. She strove no more for the rest.
Up, she stood up to attention, with the muzzle beneath her breast.
She would not risk their hearing; she would not strive again;
For the road lay bare in the moonlight;
Blank and bare in the moonlight;
And the blood of her veins, in the moonlight, throbbed to her love's refrain.
Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horse-hoofs ringing clear;
Tlot-tlot, tlot-tlot, in the distance? Were they deaf that they did not hear?
Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill,
The highwayman came riding,
Riding, riding!
The red-coats looked to their priming! She stood up, straight and still!

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.

And still of 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,
A highwayman comes riding--
Riding--riding--
A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.
Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard;
He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred;
He whistles 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.


Re: Speaking of the Writer's Almanac
Posted by: Talia (216.117.99.---)
Date: September 16, 2003 03:29PM

Well Pam, it isn't short, that's for sure.


Re: Speaking of the Writer's Almanac
Posted by: -Les- (---.trlck.ca.charter.com)
Date: September 16, 2003 03:43PM

Thanks for sharing this, Pam. It has been a long time since I'd read it.

Les


Re: Speaking of the Writer's Almanac
Posted by: joseph torelli (---.dyn.optonline.net)
Date: September 16, 2003 04:29PM

This is one of my all-time favorites. The late poet and folk singer, Phil Ochs, set these words to music with a haunting melody that beautifully complements the romance and tragedy in Noyes' classic ballad. I believe the song first appeared on the Ochs' album, "I Ain't Marchin' Anymore," and it is also included in several Ochs anthology albums. If you're a Noyes admirer, it's a must listen.

joet


Re: Speaking of the Writer's Almanac
Posted by: -Les- (---.trlck.ca.charter.com)
Date: September 16, 2003 04:39PM

Joseph, here's a Phil Ochs classic for you, thanks for the tip. I'll look for that song.


Outside of A Small Circle Of Friends Phil Ochs
(Off the album "Pleasures of the Harbor")

Look outside my window, there's a woman being grabbed
Thay've dragged her to the bushes and now she's being stabbed.
Maybe we should call the cops and try to stop the pain
But Monopoly is so much fun, I'd hate to blow the game

And I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody,
Outside of a small circle of friends


Driving down the highway, yes, my back is getting stiff
Thirteen cars are piled up, hanging off a cliff
Now maybe we should pull them back with our towing chain
But we're on the move and we might get sued and it looks like it's gonna rain

And I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody,
Outside of a small circle of friends


Sweating in the ghetto with the colored and the poor
The rats enjoy the babies who are sleeping on the floor
Now wouldn't it be a riot if they really blew their tops
But they got too much already and besides, we've got the cops

And I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody,
Outside of a small circle of friends

There's a dirty paper using sex to make a sale
The Supreme Court was so upset they sent him off to jail
Maybe we should help the pain and take away his fine
But we're busy reading Playboy and the New York Times

And I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody,
Outside of a small circle of friends


Smokin marijuana is more fun than drinking beer
But a friend of ours was captured and they gave him thirty years
Maybe we should raise our voices, ask somebody why
But demonstrations are a drag, besides, we're much too high

And I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody,
Outside of a small circle of friends


Look outside my window, there's a woman being grabbed
Thay've dragged her to the bushes and now she's being stabbed.
Maybe we should call the cops and try to stop the pain
But Monopoly is so much fun, I'd hate to blow the game

And I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody,
Outside of a small circle of friends

Les


Re: Speaking of the Writer's Almanac
Posted by: joseph torelli (---.dyn.optonline.net)
Date: September 16, 2003 04:50PM

Les:

I admire Ochs as much as I do Noyes and this particular song is one of his best. It's based on a true incident that occurred in Brooklyn in the early 1960s when a waitress, Kitty Genovese, was brutally stabbled in the courtyard of her apartment building as she returned home from a late-night shift. Dozens of her neighbors heard her screams and/or saw her being attacked; however, when questioned afterwards, they all said they thought somebody else would call the police. Ochs used that horrible incident as the foundation for this disturbing song about indifference, in general.

joet


Re: Speaking of the Writer's Almanac
Posted by: Linda (---.cache.pol.co.uk)
Date: September 16, 2003 06:54PM

Anyone with a child in Year5 will have had to help them with this as the do the Ballads section of the national curriculum.


Re: Speaking of the Writer's Almanac
Posted by: marian2 (---.in-addr.btopenworld.com)
Date: September 17, 2003 03:52AM

I've never heard of Ochs, but if that's a sample of his work, I shall start looking - any recommendations as to his most famous/ most typical or easiest to find album?


Re: Speaking of the Writer's Almanac
Posted by: joseph torelli (---.dyn.optonline.net)
Date: September 17, 2003 05:10PM

Marian2:

You can find his albums on Amazon.com, or any website, really, that deals in music. "Pleasures of the Harbor" is probably the album that is most available, and it's a real good one, but I'd look for an anthology album with "The Highwayman" on it to get both a good feel for Ochs and the haunting ballad as well.


Re: Speaking of the Writer's Almanac
Posted by: marian2 (---.in-addr.btopenworld.com)
Date: September 18, 2003 03:54AM

Thanks, Joseph - I'll get on to it!


Re: Speaking of the Writer's Almanac
Posted by: Marian-NYC (---.nyc1.dsl.speakeasy.net)
Date: September 18, 2003 09:43AM

Marian2 -

There's a nice tribute at

[www.furious.com] />
And another sort of "tribute" in the fact that many folk singers learn his songs from each other without ever seeing an album or a photo, so you sometimes see his name misspelled (Oaks or Oakes) by people who "should know better." The first time I saw that, I was annoyed, until I realized how impressive it was that his NAME was still attached to the song at all, after it passed from one musician to another by ear alone.


Re: Speaking of the Writer's Almanac
Posted by: joseph torelli (---.dyn.optonline.net)
Date: September 18, 2003 10:17AM

Marian-NYC

Thanks for the info on the website. The more you listen to and come to know Ochs and his music, the more you realize how tragic and senseless his suicide was. More than any of his more renowned contemporaries, he had a special capacity to raise awareness of injustice with just a few simple but profound words.

joet


Re: Speaking of the Writer's Almanac
Posted by: -Les- (---.trlck.ca.charter.com)
Date: September 20, 2003 01:02AM

Marian 2, this website will give you a list of Phil Ochs albums:

[www.allmusic.com] />

Les


Re: Speaking of the Writer's Almanac
Posted by: -Les- (---.trlck.ca.charter.com)
Date: September 20, 2003 01:06AM

Marian 2, I'm sorry but the link above does not work. Try this one. Type in the words Phil Ochs in the search box and you should get a brief biography and a list of all his albums.

[www.allmusic.com] />
Les


Re: Speaking of the Writer's Almanac
Posted by: marian2 (---.in-addr.btopenworld.com)
Date: September 21, 2003 01:25PM

Thanks - I was struggling with the other link.


Re: Speaking of the Writer's Almanac
Posted by: Marian-NYC (---.nyc1.dsl.speakeasy.net)
Date: September 22, 2003 01:41PM


I've read in a couple of places that Ochs suffered from manic depression.

People with bi-polar disorders tend to be high risk for suicide, partly because their "downs" are very very low, and partly because if they don't respond well to medication, they foresee an endless cycle of downs.

I DO NOT KNOW ANYTHING FOR SURE!!! For all I know, he might have killed himself over a broken heart when he was otherwise okay, but I was (glad? relieved?) to find out about his manic=depression, because it leads me to make two TENTATIVE ASSUMPTIONS:

1. That he died of his mental illness -- not because the world treated him shabbily, which WOULD be "senseless and tragic" indeed.

2. That he died of his mental illness -- not due to being overwhelmed by the injustice and suffering he sang about.




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