The moon, and (especially the moonlight) is almost like a character in this poem. In fact, the word moonlight shows up nineteen times! It's as if the moonlight has soaked into everything, even taken over the poem. This is definitely part of the spooky, dramatic beginning too. Moonlight tends to be eerie, to make you see strange things in the shadows. That fits in with the ghost-story side of this poem.
- Line 2: Here's a full out, prize-winning metaphor! The speaker compares the moon to a "ghostly galleon" (a big old ship) riding on a sea of clouds. Ever see a big orange moon coming up through the clouds? That's how we see this one, a huge moon lost in the ocean of the sky. Kind of cool, actually. Plus, it adds even more to the spooky, Halloweeny atmosphere of this first stanza.
- Line 30: We won't drag you through every mention of moonlight, but let's look at some key ones. This line is pretty dramatic. It's the spot where the highwayman promises to come back for Bess, no matter what. In a way, the highwayman and the moonlight get tied together. He's really a creature of the night in this poem, and the only time we see him in daylight (line 87) he's about to die. Maybe he's a vampire! Sorry, maybe we're a little Twilight-obsessed.
- Line 84: In a way, the moonlight is like punctuation in this poem. The image of the pale white moon lighting up the scene underlines key moments in the plot. This is a big line, full of the sadness of Bess' death. She waited in the moonlight, but she "died in the darkness." We should point out the alliteration there too ("died," "darkness"). All this sets us up for the ghost story about Bess and the highwayman. In a way they become prisoners of moonlight and darkness.