Ah! The premiere poem that sparked my love of rhyme, meter, and stanzas; Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Paul Revere’s Ride. There was once a time, I had this particular prose memorized and I have recited often for academic purposes, with the last being my graduate school project for Children’s Literature. I can distinctly recall stumbling upon a tome of collected stories and poems, as a mere child in my late grandmother’s house during the course of long tedious visitation. I carefully spread the William J. Bennett’s The Book of Virtues upon my lap while sitting on the divan. I went contrary to character, opening the book in the middle and this poem appeared before my astonished childhood eyes. What adventure! What imagination! I was sure I heard the hoofbeats. Or was it merely my heart quickening? Whatever the case, I was enthralled!! And thus, began my love of poetry.
Unlike Edgar Allan Poe, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow saw fame and fortune during his lifetime due to the powers of the pen. Longfellow is one of the five Fireside Poets who were New Englanders who rose to international fame with lyrical prose suited for the common man and his family. Paul Revere’s Ride was first published 1863 and became a favorite for recitation courses in the schoolroom. However, it must be noted, as a historically accurate account, it is certainly flawed, but then again, it was not meant to a factual representation of the event. The poem in essence captures the spirit of the revolution and turning of the tides to American favor; for which its unsurpassed.
**I apologize for the lack of line breaks between stanzas, I was having the most difficult time with them on WordPress.**
Paul Revere’s Ride by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1863
Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town tonight
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light—
One, if by land, and two, if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm.”
The he said, “Goodnight!” and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge back hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.
Meanwhile, his friend, through alley and street,
Wanders and watches with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.
Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
By wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the comber rafters, that round him made
Masses moving shapes of shade—
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town,
And moonlight flowing over all.
Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,
The watchful night wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, “All is well!”
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour and secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay—
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide, like a bridge of boats.
Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse’s side,
Now gazed at the landscape far and near,
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and somber and still.
And lo! As he looks, on the belfry’s height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bride he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns!
A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing , a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
He left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders, that skirt its edge,
Now soft of the sand now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tamp of his steed as he rides.
It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the famer’s dog,
And felt the damp of the river fog,
That rises after the sun goes down.
It was one by the village clock
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting house windows, blank and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.
It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadows brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket ball.
You know the rest. In the books you have read,
How the British Regulars fired and fled—
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.
So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm—
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo forevermore!
For, borne on the night wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoofbeats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.
of Paul Revere.