Personification in The Highwayman

Instructor: Rachel Noorda
This lesson discusses personification, or giving human characteristics to non-human objects, in 'The Highwayman' by Alfred Noyes. After this lesson, you'll know why personification is used in literature and have some particular examples of personification from 'The Highwayman'.

Introduction to The Highwayman

The Highwayman is a poem written by Alfred Noyes in 1913. It is a type of poem called a ballad, a poem that narrates a story in short stanzas. The story that is narrated in The Highwayman is about a highwayman, or someone who travels on the highway on horseback and robs people, who is in love with a girl named Bess. Bess sacrifices her life to warn the highwayman that there is an ambush waiting for him. The highwayman tries to get revenge for Bess's death, but ends up dying too on the highway.

Defining Personification

Personification is giving human characteristics to non-human objects. Personification is used as a literary device, a tool that the writer uses to get a message across. The purpose of personification in literature is to connect the reader to whatever is being described. It is much easier for a reader to relate to something that is human, or seems human because it has human characteristics. That is why writers personify objects in literature.

Personification in The Highwayman

  • There was death at every window

When King George's men come to the inn and wait for the highwayman, tying up Bess to lure him there, the poem says that 'there was death at every window'. Death is a concept but it is certainly not an entity that is able to be in a physical place such as at every window. But this personification of death tells you that someone is going to die and that it is a bad thing that King George's men are there to capture the highwayman.

  • The hours crawled by like years

As Bess is tied up and waiting for the highwayman to arrive, the poem says that for her, 'the hours crawled by like years'. Time is a concept. Seconds, minutes, and hours are all the same speed regardless of what is going on in a character's life, but there may be times where it seems like time is slowing down or speeding up. Personifying time here and saying that the hours 'crawled' shows that time seemed to be moving slowly for Bess.

  • For the road lay bare in the moonlight

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