The poem is about a true love between a robber and the daughter of a landlord who runs an inn on a highway. This poem shows the true love, the love which is not asking but giving, scarifying life in order to save the life of the beloved. And it is so serene so pure that even death cannot separate the beloved. The lovers meet even after the lives end.
The poem depicts the story of a robber who travels on his horse and robs gold. The king’s men are on search for him and he visits his beloved, Bess at her father’s inn which is situated on a highway. Someone else who is loyal o the king and loves Bess listens to their conversation and tells the king’s men about his visit to the Bess promises the next day. He got trapped, and in order to save his beloved, the highwayman, she shoots herself in order to alert him. He tries to escape but could not get a chance to do so, and is shot dead by the soldiers. Now it is known that even after his death, his soul wanders on the highway on his horse in search for his love.
The poet is describing a situation, a scene in the first stanza. He says that it is late evening time and it is windy outside. Even the moon is not looking beautiful but adding to the darkness by hiding behind the dark clouds. The atmosphere looks ghostly and scary. The road looks alone and dark, just the light of moon is flashing on the road giving it a look of a red ribbon running on the long stretch of the road. Here, the poet seems talking about the lonely highway, not crowded by traffic. On that dark night and lonely highway, the entry of the highway man is flashed by the poet now. He is riding on his horse and approaching a small restaurant situated on the highway. Finally he reaches to the door of the small restaurant or inn.
In the next stanza, the poet describes about the appearance of the highway man, the main character of the poem. He is wearing a French cocked hat and got some laced beard down his chin. He is wearing a heavy velvet coat, underneath which his brown colored skin can be figured out. His coat is so well fitted and he is wearing cowboy’s boots which are high, covering up to his thighs. It means that the boots are covering almost most of his trousers or jeans, whatever he is wearing. While he is wandering on his horse, there is some distinct glow in him which looks like a jewel from a distance. He is also carrying a pistol in his trousers pocket at his buttocks. This description shows as if he is a robber.
Now the poet says that this highway man enters the small restaurant moving on his horse. He knocked at the door and then made some secretive whistle towards the window of the yard, as if he is intentionally calling or signaling someone. Someone seems waiting for him over there. Yes, Bess was there, the daughter if the landlord, waiting or him desperately. She is beautiful and wearing a red color ribbon row in her long black hairs. This lady, Bess and the high way man are in love with each other.
But just like every love story has some hurdles and some villain, in this case, the Osler Tim was hidden at the inn, listening to the conversations between the two love birds. He is frozen by his looks, not a warm guy and is peeking to listen to their conversation. His eyes are also hollow, no love to show in them and hairs also not in proper place. But the irony is that he also loves the landlord’s daughter, Bess. Again the poet is appreciating the beauty of the landlord’s daughter, telling that the lips of Bess are filled with beauty and red in color. Tim is listening to their talks and finally he hears the secretive words of the highway man, which he is saying to Bess.
It seems that the highwayman is in a hurry and has no time to spend with her. He is longing for a kiss and cannot wait for longer than that. He tells her that he got some plan for big loot tonight and before he moves for that, he needs one sweet kiss from his sweetheart. He further tells that he have to go now but assure her that he will be back along with lots of precious gold of loot by the morning tomorrow. It seems that he will be going for the robbery soon after meeting her. He then tells her that if by any chance, he is seen or caught robbing, he got to take a little late in getting rid from the soldiers and will surely be back by the moonlight that is late evening the next day. He again assures that be it anything, no one can stop him to meet her tomorrow and he will surely be back by the evening tomorrow.
He is still on the back of the horse, and now he moves a little towards her, while being on his horse. He reaches for her hand and out of love, Bess loosens and untie her hairs and move towards her. She could reach up till his chest and his touch leaves her sweet perfumed fragrance in his chest. He kissed her in that sweet moon light. And finally he takes up his command on the horse and moves rapidly towards the other side of the highway moving at the west side.
The entire poem is divided into two parts. The first part ends here and now the second part begins. The scene change to the next morning. The highway man did not come by the morning, and time passes. It is noon time now and still he has not come back. The sun is setting and the moon is rising now and still there are no traces of the highway man. Once again, it is the same scene like the last night, just like the part one- dark night, purple sky and red ribboned highway. Now instead of the highwayman, some soldiers wearing red costs came marching towards the small restaurant. They finally entered the inn. These are the troops of the king George, who is the cruel ruler.
The soldiers after entering the inn did not open their mouth to tell the purpose of their visit to the landlord. Instead they came, and drank all wine, and without a second thought, they reached to Bess, the landlord daughter. They tie her from the feet to the bed lying in the inn at a corner. They abused her with their acts. She knew by now that they have come to hunt for the highway man, and it was for sure that neither she nor her love would be saved now. It is the death which is surrounding them from all the sides. But she was just concerned about her love and was continuously glancing at the lonely highway where from the highway man would come. She is hoping that he do not come, else he will be shot dead by those wicked soldiers.
The soldiers tied her in such a way that she cannot move, with her hands at the back, and tied a musket at her side and a muzzle under her breast. The soldiers abused her by kissing her but her thoughts are focused on the words of her beloved that he will surely come by the moonlight. No one can stop him from meeting Bess. This thought is worrying her and she do not want him to come and die at the hands of the cruel soldiers.
She tried to get away from there. She checked at her back if the knots tied to her hands can be loosened but they were tied up pretty tight. But she continuously moved her fingers and they became wet due to sweat and even blood since she tried to get rid of the strong ropes tied to her hands which are hurting her hard. She is not going to give up and trying continuously to untie her hands. It seems she is trying to escape since long time and it seems that the hours are passing like years. It is getting tough. Now everything is getting cold means harsh for her. Finally she could untie it and reach to the gun which the soldiers held at her. She reaches the trigger with one finger.
She does not wait for the entire grip of the gun beneath her breast and hits it; she did not think twice or waited for the highway man to come in the sight of the soldiers. She knew that if they see him, they will kill him and this is the only one way to save him. He pulls the trigger to kill herself, such that the voice of the shoot of the bullet can alert the highwayman that the soldiers are here and he should run in the other direction away from the inn.
Now finally, the highwayman is approaching. The noise of the footsteps of the horse of the highwayman is clearly heard now. He is approaching the inn. Bess is all the more worried now that the voice of his horse steps is not heard by the soldiers, which she can hear so very clearly. She wishes that the soldiers get deaf not to hear him coming. She loves him so very much that she fears his death and not hers. And finally, he can be seen at a far distance approaching the inn. Even the soldiers take a look at him.
He is moving towards the inn and finally he comes nearer. She is all the more scared and then she draws a last breath and finally pulls the trigger and kills her. This shot is to give him a warning, to alert him not to come nearer.
The voice of the bullet shot alerted him and he turned backwards, sensing the alarm. He could see someone going down with blood. At the first glance, he could not understand who is deed but then made out that it is Bess who committed suicide in order to save him. He understood the entire plot, and turned back to save himself from the soldiers. He is deeply annoyed and shouted for the sad death of his love. He is moving fast on his horse but could not save himself. The speed of the bullets of the soldiers was faster than his speed and finally he is also shot dead on the highway. He falls on the highway and dies.
But the love story does not end here. Their love is true. Some people say that the soul of the highway man still wanders on his horse in search for his love. In some winter’s night, when it is as dark as when they used to meet, he come riding on his horse to the inn and makes the same familiar whistle to call his love, Bess.