Thursday, September 24, 2009
Loreena McKennitt's 1997 album The Book of Secrets includes a long track--in excess of 10 minutes--called "The Highwayman," an adaptation of the narrative poem of the same name written by Alfred Noyes and published in 1906. Noyes's The Highwayman tells the romantic story of a dashing unnamed robber and Bess, the innkeeper's daughter who loves him. He comes to her one night on horseback and promises to return to her once he's achieved his goal: One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I'm after a prize to-night/But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light. Unfortunately, "King George's men" have other ideas, and use Bess to bait a trap for the highwayman. She gives her life to warn him away, but the highwayman is ultimately killed as well: They shot him down on the highway/Down like a dog on the highway/And he lay in his blood on the highway, with the bunch of lace at his throat. The song essentially sets the poem to music, though some abridgement was required--McKennitt has omitted three stanzas, in the process excising a minor subplot about a jealous stable boy who betrays the couple to the authorities.