The relentless rain sought to admonish those creatures who dared venture out.
The wind carried a sorrowful message, determined to generate doubt.
A less desperate man would have faltered on reaching that clifftop rim,
But the resolute prisoner kept standing—
Against Nature and instinct, still standing—
He remained there, surprisingly steady, though frozen from limb to limb.

His clothing was coarse as flour sacking, and chains lay between his bare feet,
Cruelly limiting every footstep to a shuffling, metallic beat;
And a hunger tormented his belly with cravings he’d never known,
And the dismal landscape behind him—
The unchanging landscape behind him
Gave rise to a chill isolation that fugitives feel to the bone.

Breaking out had been frightfully easy compared to the trials he endured
Navigating his way through marshes, infested, and depth obscured;
And the leeches he gained as companions from treacherous, stinking bogs
Stigmatized him as if by branding—
A most visible scarlet branding—
For those bloodletters bit him a branding befitting unfettered dogs.

He regarded the ocean below, and perceived a perverse relief:
One last leap to a break-and-enter seemed appropriate for a thief.
And although his poor bones would be broken to splinters against the rocks,
He would drift as the free may wander
(Though not as the living may wander)
To wherever the tides may determine, away from the curse of locks.

In regard to his battered spirit: released it would doubtless fly
Far across the dividing ocean, winding back through the boundless sky;
And upon having reached his homeland, emerald green as the swelling surf,
There at last he would see his sweetheart—
His long-suffering, lonely sweetheart,
With the locks of her hair leeward flowing, home carrying blocks of turf.

With a look on his face borne of gladness; a mien too long unknown,
Never fearing or hesitating, he dropped from the cliff like a stone.
The spray-laden air whistling past him produced a delightful tune,
A once in a lifetime diversion—
A God given, perfect diversion,
High and sweet as the harps of Heaven—a melody played out too soon.

Mounted troopers arrived in the morning, fast pulling their steeds to a stop,
Unashamedly disappointed that their quarry had taken a drop.
There would be no excitement of capture, nor rapid descent of whips
Raining down far too often to measure—
When pleasure from pain knew no measure
And the sounds of maniacal laughter rang out through malevolent lips.

“May his soul burn in Hell!” they exclaimed. “That’s where all common scoundrels go!”
But just who were these troopers to judge him? And how could they possibly know?
I prefer to believe that he reached her, this spirit, from earthly cares free,
Now chainless, and frequently smiling—
He most certainly would be smiling
To abide with his true love forever—this high-flying escapee.



David Watt is a writer from Canberra, the “Bush Capital” of Australia. He has contributed regularly to Collections of Poetry and Prose by Robin Barratt. When not working for IP (Intellectual Property) Australia, he finds time to appreciate the intrinsic beauty of traditional rhyming poetry.

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19 Responses

  1. Jeff Eardley

    David, this reminded me of Alfred Noyes “The Highwayman” with its aching poignant narrative. I hope the subject found salvation in the deep water. I really enjoyed reading this. Was the inspiration a true story I wonder?

    • David Watt

      Hello Jeff. The idea for this poem did indeed start from reading Alfred Noyes “The Highwayman.” I revised the meter substantially from my first version in order to make it primarily anapestic.
      I am glad you enjoyed the fictional narrative. The idea of an Irish born convict finding his own version of freedom seemed to provide scope for “high” drama.

  2. Margaret Coats

    A grim-to-the-limits tale, David, even with the narrator’s provisional compassionate consolation in the final stanza. Suspenseful in its gradual revelation of the situation, and well done in meter and stanza form. Suicide stories are notoriously difficult to end, but I think you came up with an artistically attractive conclusion in “this high-flying escapee.”

    • David Watt

      Thank you very much Margaret. I seem to fluctuate between grimness and humor in my poetry these days. I am particularly gratified to read that meter and stanza form came out well.

  3. Mike Bryant

    I really got caught up in this haunting tale. It does carry you along and it feels absolutely authentic. I agree that it seems to be based on a true story. Either way, you have a gift.

    • David Watt

      Thanks Mike for your generous comments. I much prefer to invent a story rather than develop an existing one. I think the reason for this preference is that working from scratch allows me to add detail as I choose, and also to change the narrative’s direction at any point.

  4. jd

    A beautiful poem, David, especially considering
    where you reside. It’s beautiful for all the technical
    reasons noted above and even though I would prefer
    a modicum of hope with the solution, I can still
    admire the poetry. Prayers for you and your country
    (and ours).

    • David Watt

      I thank you for your prayers JD, and extend my own to you and all in your country. The boot of authoritarianism has fallen more heavily here than could have been imagined a couple of years ago. We must soldier on and continue to seek beauty.

  5. D.G. Rowe

    Excellent originality with the form!
    Lovely triple rhythms, and superb repetitions on the 4th and 5th line of each stanza.

    Proper craftsmanship in the delivery of this narrative. Poignant and hard.
    A rogue fairy-tale in the manner of Kelly.

    All the best, Mr Watt.

    • David Watt

      Thank you so much D.G. The poem’s form was borrowed from “The Highwayman”, as Jeff Eardley correctly observed. My narrative managed eight stanzas compared to Noyes’ galloping seventeen.

  6. Peter Hartley

    David- I was going to write exactly the same thing as Jeff about it reminding him of Alfred Noyes’s “Highwayman,” well, reminding me, I mean. But it wasn’t the narrative, it was the rhythm.That poem was one I learned off by heart at school and I still like it today. And yours is good too!

    • David Watt

      Peter, there is something about the rhythm and repetition of “The Highwayman” that makes it a memorable poem. I recall reading that in Alfred Noyes opinion he was at the ideal age (26) to write this romantic ballad. Although, I don’t agree that age should necessarily be a limiting factor in addressing a particular poetic theme. The counter argument could be that the lens of age may embellish experience.
      All the best to you.

  7. Paul Freeman

    A rip-roaring yarn. I do like a good narrative poem.

    Thanks for the read, David.

  8. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    David, I love this poem! It gallops along in rapturous rhyme and rhythm at breathtaking speed, sweeping the reader up in the nail-biting, heart-wrenching moments, to a sad yet beautiful conclusion. No man is meant to live his life in chains suffering the callous fate of cruelty at the hands of those who take pleasure in meting out pain… a lesson we can all learn from. Thank you!

  9. David Watt

    Thank you Susan. Breaking free from our chains is equally important today as it was for a convict in irons. If only we could be smiling once again.

  10. James Sale

    A superb poem, David, and as many have said, echoes of the wonderful Highwayman here; but yours is its own thing. I especially like the 4th/5th line repeated – with variations – refrain. Hypnotic and fascinating. Well done.

  11. David Watt

    James, I hadn’t previously tried repeated lines in this fashion. It may be an
    effect I try again, if it suits the particular piece. Thanks for your comments.


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