“The Moon Was a Ghostly Galleon . . .”

” . . . tossed upon cloudy seas.” Alfred Noyes’ poem “The Highwayman” was one of the first long ballads I remember reading. Louis Untermeyer included it in the wonderful anthology for young readers that I still have. Even before then, I remember hearing my mother and father quoting the lines when winter winds blew and shreds of cloud dimmed the moon.

“The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.   

The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.   

The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,   

And the highwayman came riding—


The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.”


Loreena McKennitt arranged parts of the poem, not the full ballad of doomed love and blind fury. I was reminded of both ballad and song on the eve of the Harvest Moon, when I glanced out a window and saw the above. And below.

And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,

When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,   

When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,   

A highwayman comes riding—


A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.

Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard.

He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred.   

He whistles 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.


6 thoughts on ““The Moon Was a Ghostly Galleon . . .”

  1. I loved that poem until I picked up an actual Brown Bess, all 62 inches of it, and went “Wait, the barrel was under her breast, and she reached the trigger? Was she an orangutan?”

  2. Oh, wow – I have that very same poetry anthology! The Magic Circle – a Christmas present when I was about nine or ten.
    And the same Loreena McKennett album, too.

  3. Lovely pictures. I have a few like that, of the setting sun on a cloudy day. Similar worries cast.

  4. Radio.
    CBS Radio Workshop.
    February 10, 1957′
    “1489 Words,” voiced by the great William Conrad.
    The first 956 words are “The Highwayman.”
    ‘Nuff said?
    The last 7 are by an unknown Japanese poet: “Silence” … “The butterfly sleeps on the temple bell.”
    As I recall, all selections were by Mr Conrad. Superb!

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