Narrative poetry is poetry that tells a story, and amongst the oldest genre of poetry. A narrative poem is quite short and generally gives a direct appeal to human interest such as love, hate etc. We have read two types of poems which are ballads and monologues. Ballads are poems that tell a story in song, normally ending with a tragedy. It is a rhythmic saga of a past affair, which may be heroic, romantic or satirical, almost inevitably catastrophic, which is related in the third person.
The ballad is a shorter narrative form related to individual episodes and suitable for evening entertainment. On the other hand, monologues are gothic melodramatic, showing the destructive side of love. ‘The Highwayman’, ‘The Lady of Shalott’, and the ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ are all ballads and all address the love and romance but in a mystical way. But in their own respect, there are differences between the poems. ‘The Lady of Shalott’ and ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ both show mystical figures unlike ‘The Highwayman’ where we know quite a lot about the characters.
The other poems that we have studied are ‘The laboratory’ and ‘My last Duchess’ both written by Robert Browning which has a different topic showing how destructive love can be, which differs from the ballads where the intensity of love is high and also mystical. Noyes’ uses the romantic figure of an anonymous highwayman to narrate the fast paced, dramatic narrative of the doomed love affair between the highwayman and his ‘red lipped’, beautiful Bess. The Highwayman is described as having ‘a bunch of lace at his chin’ which showed that he was posh and rich, possibly from the money he stole from people.
They make him a romantic figure such as ‘They fitted with never a wrinkle’. Noyes’ reveals the Highwayman as a romantic person, who a girl would dream to have. The Highwayman is made to look incredible manly, who a girl would fall for. ‘His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky’. How the Highwayman is described at the start brings in the topic of a doomed love affair. Later in the ballad, Bess gets kidnapped as a ploy to capture the Highwayman. ‘For Bess could see, through the casement, the road that he would die’.
At this point the reader realises that the love between the two may not last very long at all. This brings in the topic, of both their love to be doomed as they wouldn’t stay as one. Smartly Noyes’ at the start writes all about the love between the two, but typically later on the reader realises, that their love seems to have been doomed. He builds a sense despair at the fact, that the Highwayman and Bess will not prolong their love any longer. But also Noyes’ creates a sense of anticipation and even hope, that Bess will be saved. ‘The Highwayman came riding’.
The reader feels that the Highwayman has come to save Bess, therefore creating a sense of anticipation. But ruthlessly Noyes’ ends the reader’s anticipation when Bess kills herself. The characters behave in a certain manner to create different topics within a ballad. The characters form the story with different subjects. Conversely, La Belle Dame Sans Merci starts off with the topic of death. The knight sees ‘a lily on thy brow’. He is at the point of death. John Keats starts of the ballad with the topic of death and the knight being very close to death.
The title suggests that Keats poem tells the gloomy tale of a knight being ensnared by his love for ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’. Just a little later in the ballad the knight meets a beautiful lady, and feels as if he has a reason to live again. ‘Full beautiful-a faery’s child’, the knight falls in love with the lady. This brings in the topic of love only to be changed into betrayal in a short time. ‘Hath thee in thrall! ‘, when the lady is enslaving the knight to do what she wants. She ensnares the knight and leaves him crippled. She takes his powers and dignity away. The characters and the topics combine to create a ballad story.
Noyes uses many metaphors to describe the setting, and to convey a mysterious and foreboding atmostphere in the beginning of ‘The Highwayman’. A particular metaphor would be ‘The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas’. The moon is being compared to a ghost ship around in a stormy weather. This particular metaphor illustrates that the ‘night’ being very ghostly and the clouds very unsettled. The effect of this metaphor is describes perfectly the setting of the night time. It clearly has described the setting with a powerful emotion. Another good use of metaphor was ‘The road was a ribbon of moonlight, over the purple moor’.
It is describing the road as being ribbon shaped and bright like the moonlight. Also the word ‘ribbon’ is what women wear on their hair is associated with love and romance. This enhances the topic of love whilst also describing the setting as well. Alfred Noyes smartly uses one sentence to describe two things at once. Similes were also used to create atmosphere and suspense. ‘Her face was like the light! ‘ which built suspense because at this point she was waiting for the Highwayman to arrive so she could shoot herself and warn him of the immediate danger.
The simile creates suspense as her face is the light. Her face was glowing as to suggest the light was flowing for the last time as she wouldn’t see light again. Alliteration was used such as ‘over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard’. Noyes’ personifies the Highwayman as being brave and a sort of dare-devil. It makes him even bolder because at the time, he was being hunted down by many people so he was brave to making such a noise despite the noise alarming people looking for him. Under the circumstances he was really brave to alert anyone about his whereabouts by making such noises.
The use of alliteration builds a tense atmosphere as to whether the highwayman was going to get caught. Noyes’s use personification once in the whole ballad, ‘There was death at every window; And hell at one window’. Death is a characteristic all human face, and is being personified with the close window. This is effective in the context of the ballad because it brings in the suspense of whether Bess is going to die or not. The reader feels tense because they don’t want her to die in order to prolong the love between her and the highwayman.
But her seeing death and hell at the window makes it more likely that she will die. Also apart from these poetic devices, Noyes’ use the senses for example when he describes her fingers as being ‘wet with sweat and blood’ as she is trying to get hold of the gun. This is very effective because it quickens up the moment as is makes it almost certain that she is going to die, to the dismay of the reader. The colour ‘red’ seems to a very important symbol in the poem; signifying many subjects such as love, romance, hatred and violence. There are many examples of this such as ‘dark red love-knot’.
Love is being symbolised by the colour red but seems also a touch contrasting because it is ‘dark red’ which could mean the bitter ending of this love. Another example for romance was the description of Bess, ‘red-lipped daughter’. It shows the romantic side of love furthermore addressing red as a sign of love between the two. To the more violent side of the poem when the ‘red-coat troop’ come marching. They came to capture Bess in order to kill the highwayman. Also the repeating of ‘red blood’ off Bess shows the violent side of love.
The writer choice of words enhances the drama and heightens the emotion helping the reader to visualize the moment. The choice of words shows the violent side of love such as ‘Her musket shattered the moonlight’. Killing herself even shattered the moon, showing also the end of the love, as the moon was connected to their love plenty of times earlier. It is made more dramatic and brutal when Bess is killed, ‘Shattered her breast in the moonlight’ and her lying in her own pool of blood captures the brutality of violence and shocks the reader of the tragedy that has happened.
On the contrary ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ doesn’t use many poetic devices during the poem. A use of alliteration is ‘And sure in language strange she said’. The last three words are alliteration and a good effect of this, is that it picks up the pace of the ballad for that that line. This is a good effect because she is actually enslaving the knight, using the alliteration quickens up what she said. The reader reads this part quickly than the rest and finishes that part up very quickly. This creates an atmosphere of uncertainty on the part of the reader as they lose the plot for a while about what is happening.
Another good use of alliteration is ‘She found me roots of relish sweets’. This use of alliteration differs from the example before. This use of alliteration is used to convey the love between the anonymous lady and the knight. Their love has become sweet in a very short while. There is use of personification, ‘And her eyes were wild’ where the reader is comparing her eyes to a beast or a bear. It is surprising that Keats’ chose to describe her in such a way because in the same stanza she is being described as ‘beautiful. It contrast from he had wrote earlier.
Pathetic fallacy is used, as for example when the knight is dieing. ‘And no birds sing’. It shows the pathetic side of the ballad because it is abnormal for birds to stop singing when someone dies. Also at the start before he has met the ‘beautiful’ lady he is all depressed and sad and even then the birds don’t sing. It is ironic that it happens whenever the Knight is sad. The colours in the ballad play an important part in creating certain atmosphere. ‘I see a Lily on thy brow’. The knight is turning white and pale seemingly close to death.
This creates an atmosphere of death and therefore creates suspense because, it is only the start of the poem, and the knight dieing would seem rather odd as he is the main character in the ballad. Contrasting is the fact that 2 lines later in the same stanza he is being woken up someone with ‘cheeks fading a rose’. The romantic side of the ballad is being showed for the first time in the ballad. This creates tension because till now he is dying and within two lines he could be alive again. Seemingly her cheeks are like roses which captures her beauty and abruptly the Knight is looking as if he may stay alive.
At the start of the poem, Keats’ use words such as ‘loitering’ and ‘ail’ to show the pessimistic side of life, the Knight has. This almost creates a sad and slow tone to the poem. Later on he uses word like ‘sing’, ‘honey’, ‘sweet’ and ‘bracelet’ to convey how happy he was. It contrasts very differently from earlier. It creates a much faster tone to the ballad and makes it more free flowing. The Highwayman is a ballad despite having 8 lines per stanza and not the usual four. The fourth and fifth line in each stanza is broken and is repetitive.
Repetition is a distinguishing feature in the ballad, because it achieves a range of effects. It can emphasize a certain point or even make the poem become more lyrical. In the Highwayman it is used in order to slow the pace down of the action and build up suspense despite being a fast paced narrative. The particular use of ‘Riding-Riding’ which slows down the action as the Highwayman seems to be slowly riding his way down. Repetition of the words such as ‘moonlight’ and ‘twinkle’ are used help build the atmosphere of love and romance.
The rhyme scheme for the ballad is aabccb, to possibly to show the steady rhythm and also of the galloping horse. In all ballads, the 3rd and the last line in a stanza always rhyme giving it al lyrical quality to the poem. The poem is set out into two parts. The first part is about the intensity of love between the Highwayman and Bess. The tone is romantic but also slightly foreboding. The first half of the poem describes the flamboyant, anonymous highwayman and Bess, and the passionate love between them. The ballads start of close to a climatic episode which in this case is the love between the Highwayman and Bess.
During the 2nd part of the poem, it is more about the violence which ends like all typical ballads, with a tragedy. The form of a ballad allows the action to slow down, to build suspense and allows several descriptions of how Bess was tied up and waiting for the Highwayman to arrive. Another good use of the ballad Noyes’ makes is the lapse of time. Whilst waiting for the Highwayman to arrive, Noyes’ use 2 lines to say that a day had passed. ‘He did not come in the dawning: he did not come at noon’. This tells the reader that he did not come in the morning or the afternoon. And out of the tawny sunset, before the rise o’ the moon’. This tells the reader that he did not come at evening or midnight. This way a whole day passes, using just two lines. The first and third stanzas are repeated at the end of the poem, suggesting that the lovers still haunt the area. The ballad is written in 3rd person. La Belle Dame Sans Merci is written in 1st person so possibly the reader gets to know the feelings of the knight himself. This ballad is more like the typical one where the stanza is 4 lines. The 2nd and 4th line rhyme in all stanzas.
It is written with a steady pace therefore being able to be sung. Repetition is used to emphasize certain points for example ‘And there I shut her wild wild eyes’. The writer wants the reader to concentrate on the fact that she had ‘wild’ eyes. The writer wants the reader to capture the image of her eyes and how lethal it can be. The form of a ballad helps the change the pace of the poem at different times of the poem therefore creating suspense about the identity of the ‘beautiful’ lady and what her character was like. It created suspense this way without the reader having to adapt too many time to the differerent pace.
The pace changed only in the main part where a particular bit is emphasized. The ‘Lady of Shalott’ is written in 3rd person with 9 lines per stanza. It is very different unlike the usual ballad form where a typical one has 4 lines per stanza. The rhyme scheme for the ballad is ababcddec. Repetition is used to quicken up the pace of the poem unlike the other two ballads. ‘My last Duchess’ is a monologue which is written all in one without any stanzas. It is written in 1st person and is biased showing a one sided conversation. The rhyme scheme of the monologue is ‘aa’ throughout the whole poem.
There is no repetition in poem, which shows a difference from the ballads which all used repetition to slow down or fasten the pace of the poem. Another monologue that we studied was ‘The Laboratory’. The rhyme scheme for the poem is ‘aabb’. Even this monologue is written in 1st person. In this monologue, there are 4 lines per stanza. In this poem there is no repetition similar to the other monologue as well. The moral of the story for ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ is to never fall into love blindly. The poem can be applied to your own life.
The poem tries to send a message that someone shouldn’t love blindly because it can come back and hit you on the face. This is a good moral because, even today people do fall into love blindly and end up regretting in all your life. It teaches to love, but keep aware of everything happening around. The moral of the Highwayman is to never do the wrong things in life as you will have to pay for your deeds. In the case of the Highwayman, he stole from many people and ended up losing his life. Also he lost his love that was also killed through no fault of her own. The moral is to do the right thing in order for ones life to go well and smoothly.
I found the Highwayman the most compelling narrative poem. I felt this way for numerous reasons, because it was a fast-paced narrative poem which kept the reader interested in the poem unlike the others which were slightly boring. The reader always kept the reader’s attention and so I felt it was the best poem that I read. The other poems were more boring and in some cases just showed the destructive side of love rather than two different points of views on love. I found the poem ‘The Highwayman’ better because it showed both the romantic side of love and also the violent side of love.