Monday, 16 October 2017

Murder Ballad Monday--The Highwayman (Loreena McKennitt)

Hello and welcome to Murder Ballad Monday. I have been exploring some Southern Gothic ballads in the last few weeks, but now want to move onto more traditional ones. This one is actually a poem written by Alfred Noyes in 1906. 

According to Wikipedia:
The poem was written on the edge of a desolate stretch of land in West Surrey known as Bagshot Heath, where Noyes, then aged 24, had taken rooms in a cottage. In his autobiography, he recalled: "Bagshot Heath in those days was a wild bit of country, all heather and pinewoods. "The Highwayman" suggested itself to me one blustery night when the sound of the wind in the pines gave me the first line." The poem was completed in about two days.

It is a tale of a dashing 18th century highwayman and his sweetheart Bess. It is a great poem with beautiful imagery,  a fashionably turned out gentlemen thief, a beautiful, brave woman, heartless soldiers, jealousy, suicide and murder. It is a cracking good poem, and if you don't know it, you can read it {HERE}

Spiderman once write a quiz for a literary magazine where you had to match the onomatopoeia sound effect to the literary work.  This poem was featured for its use of TLOT TLOT! as the sound of horse's hooves. 
Image result for the highwayman charles keeping
illustration by Charles Keeping
As a child, I dreamed of being as brave as the Landlord's daughter Bess. Anytime I was ever in the presence of a four poster bed, I used to ask to be tied up with a broom handle which I pretended was a gun and mimed shooting myself in the breast as I bravely saved my sweetheart by warning him with my death. 

I was beaten up a lot as a child.
It also never occurred to me that perhaps I should not be dating a Highwayman (no matter how elegant his coat of claret velvet was) because he was a HIGHWAYMAN. I just wanted to be brave and save him. Not that she saved him as he gets shot down like a dog on the highway, despite the lace at his throat. 
Image result for the highwayman charles keeping
illustration by Charles Keeping

I was thrilled when I heard Loreena McKennitt had recorded a version. It is a long poem and so she had to make some cuts. They don't *really* effect the overall story all that much. Even with cuts it runs 9 minutes 32 seconds.

You know he is betrayed by someone as the redcoat soldiers appear at the Inn with information that he will return and tie up Bess with a musket beneath her breast as bait. She kills herself to warn him. He hears the shots and doesn't go to the Inn because he didn't who stood drenched in blood. But when he did find out it was her, he went mad with grief and got himself shot. 

In the poem you know who betrays him--it's Tim the osler who works at the Inn and is secretly in love with Bess as he listens dumb as a dog to the dashing Highwayman and his true love make plans in the dark of night. 

I have not put the lyrics below as someone has helpfully included them on the video. 

Stay tuned next week for a tale of a different Highwayman and thief.


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