Saturday, April 18, 2009


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 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, 1863

My mother reads this poem every year on the 18th of April. She bakes a cherry pie every February 22, in honor of George Washington and the cherry tree. She still makes me an Easter basket every year (although she did stop hiding it), and she insists we attend the Fourth of July parade. I look back over my childhood years, which were filled with turmoil and disturbance, and I see the anchors my mother put in place with her traditions. Not just the typical traditions like turkey at Thanksgiving and carving pumpkins for Halloween, but countless little traditions like hiking in the woods to see the first wildflowers of Spring and marking the Ides of March. No matter how uncertain life seemed, there were things I could count on, like hearing In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue on October 12, or getting the birthday spiel ("yep, x years ago today....").

She gave me other gifts as well: a love of nature, a curiosity of the world around me, a sense of the importance of history, an appreciation of literature. These, and the traditions, are the things I turn to when I face uncertainty in my life. They act as tiny sign posts through the unknown into the familiar, back home.


TheOldSchool said...

Hello, glo. I had no idea you were a member of the blogging community, too.

I'm beginning to feel as if we're all a tightly knit (but not TOO tight--the sweater, like the human, has to breathe) band of brothers and sisters in a cyber-revolution.

I wrote my first blog ever last night, and I've been tweaking it ever sense. Someday, I hope to write a second post.

It's called: The Old School -- tos.

By the way, your mother's poem reminded me a great deal of Longfellow. She's got a gift. And I don't say that because I think she may be single, attractive, and wealthy, either. It's just something I my heart.

Welcome aboard the blogging choo choo, glo. I hope to see many more coming from you down this amazing information super-highway.

anglophile said...

If you think that's good, you should hear the speech she gives about dedicating the cemetary in Gettysburg. You'd swear Abraham Lincoln wrote it.

lizardrinking said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
lizardrinking said...

Sorry, glo. Just deleted the comment above for no particular reason. This is a lovely post. I like the noting of small traditions and was always the one to make a christmas cake in about September, adding the rum to it from then on. It seemed that no-one was really interested in upholding stuff like that, but me. So, I don't really do it anymore. But this is a lovely homage to your mother.
Am a bit hungover, so sorry for the lack of clarity.

Wade said...

I like this poem. I was at Lexington and Concord this past summer, and when I read Longfellow's words I can see the path Revere and his compatriots traveled.

And family stories and traditions mean a lot to me, connecting me to own past. Thanks for sharing this, glo.

TheOldSchool said...


You must be referring to your Grandmother. I don't know your age, but surely you're not 100.

That said, many people adopt children in their well-seasoned years, so I shouldn't jump to conclusions.

I'd like to think that if she were still around, she'd be with us -- not leading us, necessarily, but at our sides, helping us lead the others -- in this new blogging revolution.

Exciting times, glo. I'm pumped! Viva la internet!

Keep up the good fight.

mama said...

Glo, that was beautiful.

amy d said...

Your mother puts me to shame in her motherdom. I think it is amazing that she combined tradition and patriotism. I hope I get to meet her someday.

Kathy Kathy Kathy said...

Your mom is even cooler than I thought.