The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes and Lord Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott
In this essay, I intend to examine the storylines, themes and language
of ‘The Highwayman’ and ‘The Lady of Shalott’ and then explain why I
think that one of the poems is more powerful than the other one.
‘The Highwayman’ is a love story full of romance and adventure. The
hero is the rakish highwayman of the title who dies for the love of
his mistress – the darkly beautiful innkeeper’s daughter, Bess.
‘The Lady of Shalott’ is a mysterious poem set in the mythical time of
legend Camelot. It is also a tragic love story in which the Lady of
Shalott, who is cursed to stay in her tower and not look out of the
window, dies for her love because she looks out of the window at Sir
The highwayman himself is a romantic hero of the 18th century. He is
very well dressed, with ‘a French cocked-hat on his forehead’ and
‘lace at his chin’. His ‘breeches of brown doe-skin’ fit ‘with never a
wrinkle’. He is a thief – the highwayman tells Bess that he will be
‘back with the yellow gold’. In addition, he is very daring. He could
be caught but still steals things and comes to visit Bess. This shows
that he is passionate about Bess. He loves Bess and promises her that
he will be back ‘though Hell should bar the way’.
Sir Lancelot is also a hero and a very brave and religious man as he
is ‘a redcross knight’. He is also cheerful because as he was riding
by the river he was singing ‘Tirra Lirra’. The writer does not
describe how Sir Lancelot looks in great detail except that he has
‘coal-black curls’ and a ‘broad clear brow.’ Sir Lancelot is a typical
romantic, Victorian hero.
Bess, the landlord’s daughter, has ‘long black hair’ and is
‘red-lipped’. She is a very determined lady because she does not give
up when she is trying to reach the trigger to warn her lover: she
‘writhed her hands till they were wet with sweat or blood’. Bess is
also madly in love with the highwayman because she kills herself for
The Lady of Shalott is a very mysterious woman. Tennyson hardly
describes her deliberately because he knows that we will each have our
own idea of what she looks like. However, at the end of the poem, Sir
Lancelot says that she has ‘a lovely face’. The ‘fairy lady’ as she is
called by the reapers, is a patient lady. She has nothing to do in the
tower in which she is embowered except weaving the reflections that
she sees in the mirror by ‘night and day’. Nevertheless, she does get
frustrated; she says ‘I am half-sick of shadows’.
The ‘fairy lady’ and Bess are similar in the way that they are both
passionate by nature.
The road in ‘The Highwayman’ has many different uses throughout the
poem. Firstly, Noyes describes it, using a romantic metaphor, as a
‘ribbon of moonlight’. It is clear that the road brings the lovers
excitement as it is this road upon which the highwayman comes ‘riding’
to see Bess. Conversely, the road...