Walking home from dinner at Stella Maris, our local trattoria - nothing fancy just good home cooked Sardo food and always a table available for the Canadese - I noticed a misty ring around the moon and for some reason a poem from grade school sprung to mind. I was carried back to a basement classroom at Franklin Horner Public School and Miss Vardi teaching us the words, rhythm and cadence of Alfred Noyes' most famous work: The Highwayman.
The wind was a torrent of darkness upon the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight looping the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding--
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn door.
He'd a French cocked hat on his forehead, and a bunch of lace at his chin;
He'd a coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of fine doe-skin.
They fitted with never a wrinkle; his boots were up to his thigh!
And he rode with a jeweled twinkle--
His rapier hilt a-twinkle--
His pistol butts a-twinkle, under the jeweled sky.
Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard,
He tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred,
He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord's black-eyed daughter--
Bess, the landlord's daughter--
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.
For the rest of this exciting poem, and believe me it is exciting, just click here.
I searched for the drawing that I recalled from our text book but nothing showed up or at least not as I remembered it. But I thought this rather dark and brooding rendering captured the spirit of the poem.
Having just reread it I can now understand why we were encourage - nay made - to learn it as both a memory and a literature exercise. It is a fine piece of action and descriptive writing. Now I can see its usefulness as a language tool - I only wish I had remember that when I was teaching English to my Polish Generals in Warsaw. The vocabulary is challenging enough - how else would I have ever learned what an ostler was; not that I ever recall using the term in general, or come to think of it even specific, conversation. But I think it is the use of action verbs and the descriptive language that make it such a great piece for teaching English. And aside from that it is, to my uneducated mind at least, still a damned good read.
I can almost forgive Noyes for his other well-known poem The Barrel Organ which includes the lines:
There's a barrel organ carolling across a golden streetOnly Verdi! Shame on you Alfred, shame on you.
In the City as the sun sinks low;
Though the music's only Verdi there's a world to make it sweet
27 agosto - Santa Monica