Today we read the poem, The Highwayman. The poem tells the dark tale of Bess, the landlord’s black-eyed daughter, who fires a musket taking her own life, in order to warn the highwayman, whom she loves, that British soldiers are waiting for him.
We get to the part in the poem where the highwayman rides up to Bess’s window, in hopes of a farewell kiss, but cannot reach her. She then lowers her hair out the window for him to kiss it instead.
“She loosened her hair… and as the black cascade of perfume came tumbling
over his breast, he kissed its waves in the moonlight.”
Student: “Miss Lewis, it says ‘his breast.’ Is that a typo?”
Me: “No. Breast is just an old timey way of saying chest. The highwayman can’t reach her up in her window, so she lowers her hair Rapunzel style so he can at least kiss that part of her. Her hair is so long that it hangs down over his face and chest.
Student: “Oh, there’s that new movie Tangled. I want to see that. She has long hair and she throws it out the window and hits that guy.”
Me: “Exactly. That is the story of Rapunzel.”
Student: “No. Your poems and stories are always like old lady stories. That movie is new.”
Me: “Tangled is new, but it’s the Disney version of an old fairy tale called Rapunzel. The Princess Rapunzel is trapped in a tower and she has to let her hair down so the Prince can climb up to rescue her. In this poem, Bess acts like Rapunzel, and lets her hair down to the highway man.”
At this point I notice a student staring at me with a disgusted expression on her face. I ask her…
Me: “Does that make sense? The highwayman can’t quite reach her so she leans out the window and lets him kiss her long Rapunzel hair.”
The confused student’s face is overcome with relief and she turns to whisper to the girl sitting behind her.
Student 2: “Oh my God. Rapunzel. I totally thought she was saying ‘bung hole’ this whole time.”
Me: “Oh no no no! That would be a whole different story… and totally inappropriate for children.”