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.
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
Just before Bess kills herself to warn the highwayman, the poem says the line, 'for the road lay bare in the moonlight'. Only a human being would lay in the past tense. The verb 'lie' is only used for human beings and 'lay' is the past tense of 'lie'. In other words, a road cannot 'lay' but the writer personifies the road to portray how empty the road is, and how the highwayman is not there on the road.
- And the blood of her veins, in the moonlight, throbbed to her love's refrain
While blood is a part of a human being, blood itself cannot think and cannot purposefully throb to a song, and a refrain is a part of a song. Bess's blood is descried as throbbing 'to her love's refrain' to show that every part of her was yearning for the highwayman, even as she died.
- All the knots held good
King George's men tie Bess up and she tries to get untied but cannot. To describe this, the poem says, 'all the knots held good'. While knots are objects and can't hold things like a human can, it tells the message that Bess could not loosen the knots.
This lesson has discussed the poem The Highwayman, which is a ballad that uses personification as a literary device. Personification, giving human characteristics to non-human objects, is used to connect the reader to the object that is being described.
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