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The Highwayman

The Highwayman

by Alfred Noyes

The Color Red

Symbol Analysis

This poem is packed with colors: black, purple, brown, white, tawny, etc. The most important color, though, is red. It comes in a bunch of shades, and shows up at different moments. It's hard for us not to connect it with the blood that soaks through this entire story, and also to see it as a symbol of passion and violence in general.

  • Line 8: This is our first reference to the color red. The highwayman's coat is the color of claret, a French wine. This detail helps us to picture how luxurious and beautiful the highwayman's gear is.
  • Line 18: The love-knot in this line might take our vote for the most important symbol in the poem. The idea of a knot is a really great image for the kind of love we see here. It's complicated, tangled and hard to pull apart. In a way, the highwayman and Bess are so tied together that they pull each other down. The fact that this knot is dark red, the color of blood, just drives home the violent intensity of their love.
  • Line 23: Bess's lips must be red enough that you would notice them, because it's one of the few descriptive words the speaker uses for her. This is supposed to be sexy, no doubt, but as we've already learned, the color red also points to dangerous passion and violence.
  • Line 40: Yup, you guessed it, the bad guys in this poem come dressed in red. These soldiers are a pretty creepy bunch of guys, and even though they represent the law, we know we aren't supposed to like them. The fact that they wear red makes that color seem even more dangerous and menacing.
  • Line 80: Now we really get down to it. Bess dies in a pool of her blood, and the speaker goes out of his way to point out that it's red. That seems obvious enough, but in a way, this is one of the things the poem has been building up to. All those subtle references to red were getting us ready for this image of terrible violence.

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