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.”
KSNE -- Most Americans are aware of Paul Revere’s historic ride from Boston, Massachusetts to Concord, Massachusetts which was in order to give warnings to Samuel Adams and John Hancock, who were Sons of Liberty and the other colonists that the British were preparing a march into Lexington. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published his most well-known published poem, Paul Revere’s Ride around one-hundred and fifty years ago on the same day that South Carolina had seceded from the United States. The poem, listed above, and memorized in many children’s childhood, is quite false. Before Longfellow had originally written the lines, “Listen my children” Revere was never known for his ride. Aside from the first line, the poet wrote almost every line of his famous poem, wrong.
The poem itself is less a poem about the Revolutionary War, but more about the impending Civil War—according historians, and about the conflict over slavery that caused it. However, based on popular belief, the true history has been lost through stories of the modern world. The poet, Longfellow, a passionately private man, was also just as passionately and private an abolitionist. In 1842, he wrote to his best friend Charles Sumner writing a slim volume called Poems on Slavery. Sumner, who was a brash and aggressive politician, delivered corresponding speeches that stirred his audience of talks of attacking slave owners. In contrast, Longfellow was a gentler soul and wrote mild poems mourning the plight of slaves. These mild verses were, “so mild” that even a slaveholder would be able to read them without losing his appetite for the dinner in front of him. This was the start of a serious of actions interfering with Longfellow’s quite lifestyle he started pondering the new Revolution and wrote about the old one. While doing so, he began writing Paul Revere’s Ride in April of 1860 with the influencing idea of the fate of the nation. During his work, he went to see Frederick Douglass speak, and read Sumner’s latest speech predicting the sacred animosity between Freedom and Slavery will only end with Freedom.
After finishing Paul Revere’s Ride, Longfellow rejoiced in his diary in November that Lincoln had won the presidency, in which he quoted Sumner, “Freedom is triumphant.”
In correlation to Longfellow, here’s how it happened. Paul Revere’s Ride was meant to appeal to Northerners’ urgent sense to call for action. The poet has used poetry before to evoke a sense of action from his readers, as this was not uncommon. At the end, the poet warns by saying, “hour of darkness and peril and need” implying the breakup of the Union, however suggests, “people will waken and listen to hear” with the midnight message again.
In addition, “Hardly a man is now alive” is quite true as one of the last men alive at the time had only recently died. The poem fluctuates between the past and present tense which symbolically pulls the actions of the Revolution into modern times. Even with its inaccuracies, the mistakes were deliberate. Even with the deliberate mistakes, the poem is credit to being the national legend of Paul Revere, a previously unknown Massachusetts silversmith. Not even his obituary cited his midnight ride, but the fame that Longfellow brought was only materialized much after the Civil War.
The majority of the criticism stems from how Longfellow gave Revere all credit for the collective achievements for three riders, and brings a false historical account that ironically became the way most citizens think the call was sent out.
Eugenia Kim, KSNE