Ballads and Epics
A ballad is a poem that tells a story wrought with drama and mystery that often explores death and love through supernatural circumstances. Many of Noyes' poems portray detailed, dramatic stories filled with suspense and surprising conclusions. Noyes' most famous poem, "The Highwayman," is the tale of a mysterious man who rides into town at night to meet his love, the daughter of an inn-keeper, only to have their romance end in tragedy. Noyes' work also often takes on an epic nature through longer story poems, such as "Drake," a 200-page work that tells tales of life at sea.
Romanticism is one of the most significant movements in literature. Driven by the work of William Wordsworth, John Keats and Alfred Lloyd Tennyson in the late 1700's, the movement advocated individualism, freedom, supernatural elements and a strong appreciation for nature. In the early 20th century, however, authors T.S. Eliot and James Joyce pushed literature into the Modernism period, which advocated rejecting past traditions for expression and experimentalism. Noyes is known for retaining the language and themes of Romanticism and adamantly rejecting the poetic developments of the new century.
Early Work: Fantasy
Noyes said that his early work was meant to evoke the carefree, dreamlike work of children's imagination, a trait often seen in Wordsworth's poetry. Much of his work's language therefore includes a fanciful, dreamlike flavor. "A Loom of Years," the title poem of his first collection, presents an explanation of the passage of time: that time, nature and the seasons are sewn together into a tapestry by a weaver. Similarly, "Daddy Fell Into the Pond" is a brief, humorous story of a humdrum family picnic disrupted when the father stumbles into a lake.
Later Work: Religion
In Noyes' later career, the death of his wife and his conversation to Catholicism led to an increased emphasis on religious themes in his work. This is clearly seen in "The Last Voyage," the third volume in an epic trilogy Noyes began composing in 1917, where the plight of a young girl isolated at sea with a severe illness illustrates the tension between spirituality and science. The poem "A Prayer in Time of War" also explores the inevitability of God's judgment against a world that has rejected him.