Paul Revere’s Ride

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

“Listen my children and you shall hear…”

paul revere midnight ride

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 to-night,
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.”

Then he said “Good-night!” 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 black 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 the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and 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 the 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 the 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 he 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 sombre 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 bridle 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 has 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 on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp 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 farmer’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, black 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 meadow 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 for evermore!
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 hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.


Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born on February 27, 1807 in Portland, Maine to Stephen Longfellow and Zilpan Wadsworth Longfellow. He was first enrolled in school at the age of three, and he had a love for literature early in his life. His father wanted him to become a lawyer, but Longfellow wanted to pursue his literary interests. He graduated from Bowdoin College in 1825, and was offered a position as the first professor of modern languages at Bowdoin. Longfellow accepted this offer, and began teaching in 1829, following an educational trip to Europe where he visited scholars in Spain, Italy, England, France and Germany. He created his own textbooks while teaching at Bowdoin, because, at the time, no others were available.

In 1831, Longfellow married Mary Storer Potter. Soon after his marriage, in 1834, Longfellow again traveled to Europe with his wife, in order to study foreign language in preparation for an appointment as professor at Harvard University. Mary Potter died in 1835 in Rotterdam and Longfellow returned to America alone.  Longfellow was again married in 1841; his new wife was Frances Appleton. He resigned from Harvard in 1854 in order to dedicate all of his time to his writing.  Some of Longfellow’s most popular works (The Song of Hiawatha and The Courtship of Miles Standish) were written during the years after he left Harvard.  In 1861, Frances Appleton died as the result of serious burns recieved while sealing packages with matches and wax.  Following his wife’s death, Longfellow again travelled to Europe before spending his last years in Cambridge. He died on March 24th, 1882.

Longfellow was awarded honorary degrees by both the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge.  He is considered to be the first professional poet in America and his later works, including Paul Revere’s Ride (1860), reflect his desire to establish an American Mythos.


About Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride

On April 18, 1775, Paul Revere set out on his now famous ride from Boston, Massachusetts to Concord, Massachusetts. Revere was asked to make the journey by Dr. Joseph Warren of the Sons of Liberty, one of the first formal organizations of patriotic colonists. The purpose was to warn Samuel Adams, John Hancock (who were also members of the Sons of Liberty) and the other colonists that the British were preparing to march on Lexington.

Revere was taken by boat across the Charles River to Charleston, where he then borrowed a horse from a friend, Deacon John Larkin. Revere and a fellow patriot, Robert Newman, had previously arranged for signals to be given (lanterns in the tower of the North Church) so Revere would know how the British had begun their attack. This is where the famous phrase “one if by land, two if by sea” originated. While in Charleston, Revere and the Sons of Liberty saw that two lanterns had been hung in the North Church tower, indicating the British movement. Revere then left for Lexington.

On his way to Lexington, Revere stopped at each house to spread the word that the British troops would soon be arriving. Sometime around midnight, Revere arrived at the house of Reverend Jonas Clark, where Hancock and Adams were staying, and gave them his message. Soon after Revere’s message was delivered, another horseman sent on a different route by Dr. Warren, William Dawes, arrived. Revere and Dawes decided that they would continue on to Concord, Massachusetts, where the local militia had stockpiled weapons and other supplies for battle. Dr. Samuel Prescott, a third rider, joined Revere and Dawes.

On their way to Concord, the three were arrested by a patrol of British officers. Prescott and Dawes escaped almost immediately, but Revere was held and questioned at gunpoint. He was released after being taken to Lexington. Revere then went to the aid of Hancock and Adams, whom he helped escape the coming seige. He then went to a tavern with another man, Mr. Lowell, to retrieve a trunk of documents belonging to Hancock. At 5:00 a.m., as Revere and his associate emerged from the tavern, they saw the approaching British troops and heard the first shot of the battle fired on the Lexington Green. This gunshot of unknown origin, which caused the British troops to fire on the colonists, is known as “the shot heard round the world.”

Many believe Longfellow’s account of the Midnight Ride is inaccurate because he portrays Revere as a lone rider alerting the colonists. Longfellow also fails to mention that Revere was captured by British soldiers before he reached Concord. However, the literary creation of a folk hero named Paul Revere was inspiring to many, and the poem still reminds people of all ages what it means to be a patriot.

About the Photo

“Painting depicting the midnight ride of Paul Revere” –
1937.
Artist A.L. Ripley.
Courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration