Sunday, 6 February 2011

The Highwayman

A while ago Miles over at An Author's Quest posted about well written music being like good writing. He used the example of Taylor Swift and I had a big comment ('cos when are my comments ever little?) typed up about how I feel the same about Dido's album 'No Angel', but my internet being its usual temperamental self decided to flake out, and so the comment was lost in the void between typing and hitting 'comment'. What's got me on to the topic again is an acoustic gig at a bar in town I've just come home from. My friend Shoshana was playing, hence my being there, and she did a version of 'The Highwayman' by Alfred Noyes which was set to music my Lorenne McKennit.

image source
Now, this might be a well known poem to many of you, however when I was studying English Literature at school it was compulsory for us to do at least one Scottish module, and to do Shakespeare. The only American literature I got was Catcher In the Rye, hence having to admit to a bunch of my fellow academics at a recent conference that I didn't know who Boo Radley is because I never read To Kill a Mockingbird. My first encounter with this poem was in Divine by Mistake by P C Cast, where the main character is asked to tell a story and she draws on her experience as an English teacher and tells the story of Bess the landlord's daughter and her Highwayman. The novel talks of how Shannon pulls her audience along with her and has them bound up in the story with her telling. Well, I experienced this tonight from my very own 'Shannon' and by the end I has goosebumps and I was almost in tears. It's odd how words can affect us to such a degree with the right storyteller, and it reminds me of why I do what I do. Literature effects people, words can change our state of being on a physical and emotional level. that's some power to be able to weild.

I would love to be able to post Shoshana's performance for you all to see because it was fantastic, and I might be able to persuade her to let me film it sometime soon, but for now I've found a video which uses Loreena McKennit's music and a visualisation of the poem as a teaching resource for students who are having difficulty following the narrative. I think Shoshana's (with her friend Findlay on fiddle) was better, but McKennit did write the music and Noyse wrote the  poem, so you've got to give them some cudos.

P.S You can check Shoshana out t her myspace page Go on, its free!


  1. Hey Kar, I've tried to email you a few times now, and each time I get a bounce-back with the following message - just wanted to let you know in case there's something you can do about it (I wonder if you've typed the wrong email address into blogger maybe???):



    Delivery to the following recipient failed permanently:

    Technical details of permanent failure:
    Google tried to deliver your message, but it was rejected by the recipient domain. We recommend contacting the other email provider for further information about the cause of this error. The error that the other server returned was: 550 550 Requested action not taken: mailbox unavailable (state 14).

  2. "visualisation of the poem as a teaching resource for students who are having difficulty following the narrative"

    So you are saying you have had some experience teaching handicapped students?

  3. Hi SSDF, thanks for the comment. That was the way that the video was descirbed by the teacher who uploaded it to youtube. I'm noe exactly sure what you mean by 'handicapped' as its not a word that we use in the UK, except maybe in golf.

    I've had some experience with students who have leardning difficulties such as dyslexia, but more in the informal way of helping out friends than as a official tutor.

    I don't think you need to have a lerarning difficulty or disability to sometime have troube following a narrative arc. When I was in high school (and still today on occasion) I found myself reading the words of a poem or passage without really thinking about what was going on the narrative until asked to describe it in my own words by my wonderfull English teachers. This is particularly the case with drama I think, and I'm grateful that my school made the effort to screen plays or take us to live theatre performances of the texts that we were studying.

  4. Hi I have just read the Highwayman poem to my class 7T. They absolutely loved it!