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Influence of the Poets on Bob Nolan's Song Lyrics

(Excerpts from pp 75-8, Bob Nolan 1908-1980 by Elizabeth Drake McDonald and Calin Coburn © 2004.)


    Bob Nolan readily acknowledged his love of the Romantic poets and a search of his song lyrics reveals their influence. His favourite poems he committed to memory and he also saved a great many verses from the modern or even local poets. He left Calin, his grandson, a large scrapbook of poems clipped from magazines, newspapers, etc. We found he had written his own comments or suggested changes in the margins.


Untitled verse by Mary Ward

"The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes

"The Bells" by Edgar Allan Poe

"Romance" by Edgar Allan Poe

"To F___" by Edgar Allan Poe

"Endymion" by John Keats

Bob's Scrapbook of Poems

Heavenly Aeroplane

I Wonder if She Waits for Me Tonight


If you find any more examples, please let us know.



  The following verse by Mary Ward was unmarked but it bears a resemblance to his A Sandman Lullaby.



(Mary Ward)

When the fitful firelight wavers

Along the book-lined walls,

And the dusk is softly falling,

I seem to hear the calls

Of those who graced my dwelling

In quiet hours long passed.

Again I see loved faces

And I realize at last

Why the room grows still more fragrant

With its hyacinths abloom,

While long lost loved ones linger

In this dusky lighted room.



A Sandman Lullaby

(Bob Nolan)

Day is done and evenin’ finds me home by the fire.

Let me stay.

Turn the lights down low, let the shadows glow on the wall.

See the flames dance and sway.

What a joy divine, this peace of mine to dream by the fire

End of day.

When the nightingale comes wingin’ to his wildwood love

And the Sandman, he comes singin’ down the moonbeam trail above,

Throwin’ sand in sleepy eyes till a world of sorrow dies

And old friends meet in slumber sweet

To a Sandman lullaby.


When asked where he got the idea for his famous Song of the Bandit, Bob replied, "I had read an old English poem called The Highwayman. Maybe you have, too, if you’ve studied English literature. I forget now who wrote it but it was very impressive to me so I turned it into a western atmosphere thing and it’s almost word for word. You know, Marty Robbins said that Song of the Bandit is his favorite, too, and that it inspired him to write El Paso."



Song of the Bandit

(Bob Nolan)

Long, long ago in old Wyoming lived a maid,

Fair as the sweetest flower bloomin’ in the shade.

She loved a bandit bold who roamed the prairie o’er

And every night she’d listen for his call.

Then, far to the west, his voice came ringin’,

Ridin’ a wild horse, he came singin’…

“Hee lee o lee yip I o lee aye!”



“Hee lee o lee yip I o lee, yip I o lee  aye!”

He brings a token of his love.

Swift as the wind he goes

For high in the hills he knows she’s waiting for his,

“Hee lee o lee yip I o lee aye!”


One day he rode away but never to return.

Danger was waiting now, his love must never yearn.

Long days and lonely nights she waited all in vain

Till winter passed and summer came again.

Still every night when the moon came shining,

For his song her heart was pining…

“Hee lee o lee yip I o lee aye!”


One night an angel brought a message from her love.

Told her he waited in the starlight sky above.

Softly, she closed her eyes and bade the angel go

And then the whole world echoed to his song

For straight down a moonbeam he came riding,

Out of the sky on a winged horse gliding…

“Hee lee o lee yip I o lee aye!”


The Highwayman

(Alfred Noyes 1880-1958)


Part One


The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,

The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,

The road was a ribbon of moonlight, over the purple moor,

And the highwayman came riding-


The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.


He'd a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin,

A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin;

They fitted with never a wrinkle: his boots were up to the thigh!

And he rode with a jewelled twinkle,

His pistol butts a-twinkle,

His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.


Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard,

And he tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred;

He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there

But the landlord's black-eyed daughter,

Bess, the landlord's daughter,

Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.


And dark in the old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked

Where Tim the ostler listened; his face was white and peaked;

His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay,

But he loved the landlord's daughter,

The landlord's red-lipped daughter,

Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say-


"One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I'm after a prize to-night,

But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light;

Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,

Then look for me by moonlight,

Watch for me by moonlight,

I'll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way."


He rose upright in the stirrups; he scarce could reach her hand,

But she loosened her hair i' the casement! His face burnt like a brand

As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast;

And he kissed its waves in the moonlight,

(Oh, sweet black waves in the moonlight!)

Then he tugged at his rein in the moonlight, and galloped away to the West.


Part Two


He did not come in the dawning; he did not come at noon;

And out o' the tawny sunset, before the rise o' the moon,

When the road was a gipsy's ribbon, looping the purple moor,

A red-coat troop came marching-


King George's men came marching, up to the old inn-door.


They said no word to the landlord, they drank his ale instead,

But they gagged his daughter and bound her to the foot of her narrow bed;

Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets at their side!

There was death at every window;

And hell at one dark window;

For Bess could see, through the casement, the road that he would ride.


They had tied her up to attention, with many a sniggering jest;

They bound a musket beside her, with the barrel beneath her breast!

"Now keep good watch!" and they kissed her.

She heard the dead man say-

Look for me by moonlight;

Watch for me by moonlight;

I'll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way!


She twisted her hands behind her; but all the knots held good!

She writhed her hands till here fingers were wet with sweat or blood!

They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like


Till, now, on the stroke of midnight,

Cold, on the stroke of midnight,

The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!


The tip of one finger touched it; she strove no more for the rest!

Up, she stood up to attention, with the barrel beneath her breast,

She would not risk their hearing; she would not strive again;

For the road lay bare in the moonlight;

Blank and bare in the moonlight;

And the blood of her veins in the moonlight throbbed to her love's refrain.


Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horse-hoofs

ringing clear;

Tlot-tlot, tlot-tlot, in the distance? Were they deaf that they did

not hear?

Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill,

The highwayman came riding,

Riding, riding!

The red-coats looked to their priming! She stood up strait and still!


Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot-tlot, in the echoing night!

Nearer he came and nearer! Her face was like a light!

Her eyes grew wide for a moment; she drew one last deep breath,

Then her finger moved in the moonlight,

Her musket shattered the moonlight,

Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him - with her death.


He turned; he spurred to the West; he did not know who stood

Bowed, with her head o'er the musket, drenched with her own red blood!

Not till the dawn he heard it, his face grew grey to hear

How Bess, the landlord's daughter,

The landlord's black-eyed daughter,

Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.


Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky,

With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high!

Blood-red were his spurs i' the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat,

When they shot him down on the highway,

Down like a dog on the highway,

And he lay in his blood on the highway, with a bunch of lace at his throat.


And still of a winter's night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,

When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,

When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,

A highwayman comes riding-


A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.


Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard,

And he taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred;

He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there

But the landlord's black-eyed daughter,

Bess, the landlord's daughter,

Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.


Note: This is the original version of The Highwayman, copyrighted 1906, 1913.



 One of Nolan’s favorite poets was Edgar Allan Poe. He borrowed freely from "The Bells" for the chorus to his own song, On the Rhythm Range.


Keeping time, time, time

In a sort of Runic rhyme,

To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells

From the bells, bells, bells, bells.

(Edgar Allan Poe , from The Bells (1849), 1.9)



On the rhythm range

Everything is keeping time

To a sort of Runic rhyme

And rhythm.

(Bob Nolan, refrain from On the Rhythm Range (1939)



Perhaps he found the inspiration for his Shadows of the Wildwood from the 9th line of Poe’s "Romance".




(Edgar Allan Poe)

Romance, who loves to nod and sing,

With drowsy head and folded wing,

Among the green leaves as they shake

Far down within some shadowy lake,

To me a painted paroquet

Hath been - a most familiar bird -

Taught me my alphabet to say -

To lisp my very earliest word

While in the wild wood I did lie,

A child - with a most knowing eye.


Shadows of the Wildwood

(Bob Nolan)

Out in the west where skies are blue,

A tiny spot I knew

Is calling from the shadows of the wildwood.

And there’s an ivy-covered shack.

A wishing well in back

Is hidden in the shadows of the wildwood.



        After an extended vacation in Hawaii in 1949, Nolan wrote several beautiful songs. Perhaps the best known are Far Enchanted Isle and Pali Wind.

        Did the 9th line from the next poem come to his mind while he was in Hawaii?




To F_____

(Edgar Allan Poe)

Beloved! Amid the earnest woes

That crowd around my earthly path –

(Drear path, alas! Where grows

Not even one lonely rose) –

My soul at least a solace hath

In dreams of thee, and therein knows

An Eden of bland repose.

And thus thy memory is to me

Like some enchanted far-off isle

In some tumultuous sea –

Some ocean throbbing far and free

With storms – but where meanwhile

Serenest skies continually

Just o’er that one bright island smile.


Far Enchanted Isle

(Bob Nolan)

Let my ship on a silver wave go rolling

Rolling to the shores of that far enchanted isle

Where my dreams tell of someone up there waiting,

Waiting on the shores of that far enchanted isle.

As the wind fills my sails

And the gentle white wake trails,

In the song that they sing I can hear

One sweet voice from the blue horizon call me,

Call me to the shores of that far enchanted isle.



Finally, in Keats’ "Endymion", did the words "A flowery band to bind us to the earth" influence the chorus of his (When the Prairie Sun Says) Good Mornin’?




Selection from Endymion by Keats

Book I, 1818

A thing of beauty is a joy forever:

Its loveliness increases; it will never

Pass into nothingness; but still will keep

A bower quiet for us, and a sleep

Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.

Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing

A flowery band to bind us to the earth

Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth

Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,

Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkened ways

Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,

Some shape of beauty moves away the pall

From our dark spirits.


(When the Prairie Sun Says) Good Mornin’

(Bob Nolan)

Every day the prairie sun comes over the hill,

Smilin’ in the sky, he says, "Good mornin’."

From his nest, a sleepy bird is stretchin’ his wings,

Wakin’ to the world that he was born in.

Prairie flow’rs are nodding in the sparkling dew.

Mother Nature doesn’t have to warn ‘em

To cling to the earth that binds ‘em and every day we’ll find ‘em

Waitin’ for the sun to say, "Good morning."