What’s Up With the Title?
"The Highwayman" refers to the main character in this poem, but it means a whole lot more than that. The idea of the criminal-as-hero is a pretty old one, and the highwayman, the dashing thief on horseback, is a stock character in a lot of old English stories and poems. We might not recognize the word "highwayman" so quickly anymore, but we definitely still love outlaws. Robin Hood might be the most legendary highwayman, and we tell stories about his crimes to even the littlest kids. This tradition continued in America too. The famous gangsters of the thirties like John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, and Pretty Boy Floyd all fit the model of the highwayman.
We know we're supposed to turn up our noses at them, but we can't help but love the way they break the rules. Sometimes we know the law is on the wrong side, and that's definitely the story we get here. By giving the poem this title, Noyes is tapping right into our love for the robber hero, with all the sexy, swashbuckling fun that goes along with it.