Monday, February 13, 2006

The new top ten

Okay, I haven't done a top ten list in a while, so I'm going to start one now. This list will be my Top Ten favorite poems!! I'm getting ready to start the poetry unit in my Introduction to Literature class, so I thought I would kick it off by listing my favorite poems. This isn't really listed in any order, these are mainly my most favorite poems - some of which would not make a contemporary literary anthology.

So, #10 is: "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes. I love this poem for several reasons. One, it was in one of my favorite story books I had as a child. Two, it was a poem Anne of Green Gables recited, and I adore Anne. And three, it is such a wonderful example of metaphor, onamatopoeia, and other figurative language. I use it in lit class because it clearly illustrates important aspects of poetry without being so literary that beginning students can't appreciate them because they can't understand what's going on in the poem. ;-) Alright, I also love it because I'm a romantic, and it's one of the most sentimental and romantic poems I've ever read. ;-)



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,
And he tapped with his whip on the shuters, 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 i' 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 moonliglt, and galloped away to the West.



He did not come in the dawning; he did not come at noon;
And out o' the tawny sunset, before the rise o' the moon,
When the road was a gypsy's ribbon, looping the purple moor,
A red-coat troop came marching—
King George's men came matching, 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 dead 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 barrel 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 grey 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 i' 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—
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.


Betty S said...

I LOVE the Highwayman. I actually had the entire thing memorized when I was in high school.

I also love and own complete sets of Teasdale, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and a number of other poets.

Barret Browning: How do I love thee. OMG GREAT POEM

One of my favorite contemporary poets is Laura Gilpin. I think she published one book "The Hocus-Pocus of the Universe" and won the Walt Whitman award in 1976 and has never been heard from again. I would give anything to know what happened or if she is writing under another name.

2 poems by Laura.

The Two-Headed Calf
Tomorrow when the farm boys find this
freak of nature, they will wrap his body
in newspaper and carry him to the museum.

But tonight he is alive and in the north
field with his mother. It is a perfect
summer evening: the moon rising over
the orchard, the wind in the grass.
And as he stares into the sky, there
are twice as many stars as usual.


The Field Where You Lost Your Mother

The field where you lost your mother
is the same field where you lost
your tricycle years ago.

She Told you never to play there
where you couldn't be seen
above the tall grass. But the grass
kept waving to you.

And one day it opened and invited
you inside and you rode in
on your tricycle, your fists tight
on the handlebars and your feet
grinding the wheels into the soft mud.

Each stem moved aside
as you passed by it and
each door opened just as
you arrived.

And when you saw the butterfly
dipping down between the stalks
you had to follow, leaving
your tricycle wedged into
the roots of grass.

And when the butterfly was gone
the field closed in around you
and the tall stems brushed against
your eyes. And you tried to retrace your steps but you
couldn't find them.

And for years every day you
went back searching through the
tall grass for your tricycle.

So when you came home and
saw your father weeping
and he told you
you had lost your mother,
you knew where to look for her:

In the field
where you knew you would not
find her.

Betty S said...

You should come to my house sometime. I have two huge bookcases in the dining room that hold mostly poetry and some art and photography.

Kelli McBride said...

What a couple of magnificent poems. I'll have to look her up. I also love Cathy Smith Bowers. That's one of my top ten, so you'll have to look out for her.

Betty S said...

I just read her "Learning How to Pray". She is awesome.

Kelli McBride said...

Hey! That's the one I'm going to post!! I've heard her speak and read her work to groups. She's got this wonderful Southern accent, and knows how to present a poem. It was incredible hearing her speak about poetry writing.