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The Road

Symbol Analysis

The road is another thing that gets mentioned so often that it starts to seem like a character in the poem. At the beginning, middle, and end, the road is a main focus. After all it's the highwayman's territory. Actually, the road has a symbolic role to play here. It's the place of travel, danger, and violence. Bess, on the other hand, lives in the closed space of the inn, which is supposed to be safe, quiet, and stable. That's why it's such a shock when the soldiers bring the violence of the road into her home.

  • Line 3: The first time the speaker mentions the road; it's in a spiffy metaphor, which he circles back to several times. He compares the road to a "ribbon of moonlight." We bet you've seen this before, when you are walking on a dark night, sometimes the path in front of you almost seems to glow. Even if you haven't seen that, the speaker definitely helps you imagine it in this line.
  • Line 86: The highwayman lives and dies on the road. In this line, we see his death charge. The image of the road "smoking behind him" is a little bit of hyperbole. Sure he's riding as fast as he can, but we know he isn't literally burning up the road. Maybe there's a puff of dust that looks like smoke. What this line really does is to give us a sense of how desperate and intense this last charge is. We're supposed to feel like we are burning down that road with him.
  • Line 93: This line repeats (almost word for word) the stuff about the road as a ribbon in line 3. There's also a similar phrase on line 39. We call this kind of poetic repetition a refrain. You can think of it like the chorus in a song. It doesn't exactly add new information, but it reinforces an image, gives us a feeling of a steady rhythm in the poem. In a way, the road ties this whole poem together, connects the scenes and the lines to each other.

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