Paul Revere's 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 Charlestownshore,
    Just as the moon rose over the bay,
    Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
    The Somersett, 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 (1807-1882)

Fighting in the American Revolution started with the famous "Shot heard round the world" on April 19th, 1775 at Lexington, Massachusetts. The battle wore on that day with the British defeat at the bridge at Concord and their retreat to Boston. A Boston silversmith was one of the men who warned the militia of the British sortie from Boston. Paul Revere’s Ride and the subsequent fighting went on to be immortalized in American history by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Characterized by familiar themes, melodious and clear language, easily grasped ideas; it’s far from "hardly a man is still alive" who remembers it simply because of the very thoroughness that has ingrained itself into the public consciousness that has given lie to the irony of opening verse - nearly every American now alive, and a good part of the rest of the English speaking world, 'remember that famous day and year', or at least the events that took place. This charming and powerful verse was first published entitled The Landlord's Tale in 1863 in Longfellow’s Tales of a Wayside Inn

The first battle of the American Revolution and the important role that silversmith, engraver and patriot Paul Revere played is related in The Life and Public Services of Samuel Adams by William Wells:

    Paul Revere had agreed to give the signal to the colonists across the Charles River by placing a lantern in the North Church Steeple.

    If the British went out by water, he would display two lanterns in the North Church Steeple, and if by land, one, as a signal that the news might be conveyed to Lexington, should the communication with the peninsula be cut off. Having instructed a friend to that effect, he was rowed across the Charles River. It was the young flood, the ship was winding and the moon rising. Landing in Charleston, Revere found that his signal had been understood. He then took a horse, and rode toward Lexington.

    After several adventures on the way, in which he narrowly escaped capture, he reached the house of Mr. Clark about midnight and gave the alarm. He was just in time to elude the vigilance of the British in Boston; for Earl Percy, having accidentally ascertained that the secret was out, gave orders to allow no person to leave the town. Revere found the family at rest, and a guard of eight men stationed at the house, for the protection of Adams and Hancock. He rode up, and requested admittance, but the Sergeant replied that the family before retiring had desired that they not be disturbed by any noise about the house. ‘Noise!,’ replied Revere, ‘ you’ll have noise enough before long. The Regulars are coming out.’ He was then admitted.
    (America Providential History)

Revere’s efforts as a courier for the revolutionary cause made him a legend. While still a young man he acquired a name for himself among the Boston aristocrats with his finely crafted and elegant silverware. His most famous engraving depicting the 1770 Boston Massacre , put him in the spotlight as an anti British propagandist. He took part with other patriots in the Boston Tea Party in 1773. When the fighting began, he carried the messages for the area revolutionaries. It was the historic ride on the night of April 18, 1775, made by Revere and two others from Boston to Concord to warn of the approaching British military. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow did employ a bit of poetic license in the infamous ballad because history records say that British scouts detained Revere en route.

In 1774 and the spring of 1775 Paul Revere was employed by the Boston Committee of Correspondence and the Massachusetts Committee of Safety as an express rider to carry news, messages, and copies of resolutions as far away as New York and Philadelphia:

    After delivering his message, Revere was joined by a second rider, William Dawes, who had been sent on the same errand by a different route. Deciding on their own to continue on to Concord, Massachusetts, where weapons and supplies were hidden, Revere and Dawes were joined by a third rider, Dr. Samuel Prescott. Soon after, all three were arrested by a British patrol. Prescott escaped almost immediately, and Dawes soon after. Revere was held for some time and then released. Left without a horse, Revere returned to Lexington in time to witness part of the battle on the Lexington Green.
Longfellow deftly captured the spirit of these patriots in his narrative verse composed of couplets and quatrains. Written in 1860, he starts with an invitation to his audience with the famous first line :
Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Written in anapestic tetrameter the author meant to suggest the galloping of a horse, continuing with the greatest of evocative descriptions in a flowing meter above all a good storytelling. The scenes flow along in the unbroken narrative; action and description combine in an unfolding smooth tapestry of images that perfectly parallels the course of the ride.

From Longfellow’s journal entry dated April 5, 1860 he wrote:

    ‘Go with Sumner to Mr H -- -, of the North End, who acts as a guide to the `Little Britain' of Boston. We go to the Copps Hill burial ground and see the tomb of Cotton Mather, his father and his son; then to the old North Church, which looks like a parish church in London. We climb the tower to the chime of bells, now the home of innumerable pigeons. From this tower were hung the lanterns as a signal that the British troops had left Boston for Concord.'
The following day Mr. Longfellow set up his ballad of Paul Revere's Ride, then on the 19th made mention in his journal:
    `I wrote a few lines in Paul Revere's Ride; this being the day of that achievement.'
"It is possible,” authorities discuss in Memorial History of Boston, III( 101). “that Mr. Longfellow derived the story from Paul Revere's account of the incident in a letter to Dr. Jeremy Belknap, printed in Siege of Boston(pp. 57-59) that tells the story primarily from the memorandum of Richard Devens, a friend and associate to Paul Revere's .” With its publication Mr. Longfellow's poem elicited a rather long and drawn out debate both as to who actually hung the lanterns and the church from which the signals were hung.

Today’s critics consider the author’s work commonplace and trite in ideas, didactic in style, lacking in real lyric and superficial at best. In spite of all this criticism his poetry remains popular to this day primarily for its simplicity in theme and style and for his technical expertise. Sonnets and other lyrics written by Longfellow remain among the finest in American poetry; Hiawatha, The Wreck of the Hesperus, Evangeline, and Paul Revere's Ride. Two years after his death in 1884 Longfellow was the first American to be recognized and honored with the placing of a memorial bust in Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey in London.


The Atlantic Monthly; January 1861; "Paul Revere's Ride," by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The Landlord’s Tale, Paul Revere’s Ride:

Mark A. Belies & Stephen K. McDowell, America Providential History, 4th Printing, (Virginia: Providence Foundation, 1994), p.138.

The Paul Revere House:

Public domain text taken from The Poets’ Corner:

CST Approved.

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