Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
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,
- Now we get the neat little ghost story ending. Even though Bess and the highwayman are dead, their spirits come back to haunt the night and play out this scene again and again.
- The speaker drives this home by repeating the first stanza (lines 1-6) and the third stanza (lines 13-18) almost word for word.
- The big difference is that now it's in the present tense. This really adds to the feeling of repetition. This isn't just a thing that happened once, it happens again and again, and could even be happening right now.
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.
- We end with the image of Bess braiding her hair. In a way, it's almost like she never died, like she has a new life in this spooky ending. It takes the edge off the tragedy. The ghost story becomes almost comforting.