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Paul Revere’s Walk by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – Poems

Hear, my children, and you shall hear
From Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride,
April Eighteenth, Seventy-Five:
Now there is hardly a man alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He told his friend: “If the British leave
By land or sea from the city tonight,
Hang a lantern in the bell tower arch
From the tower of the north church, as a signal light,—
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite bank will be,
Ready to mount and spread the alarm
Through all the villages and farms of Middlesex,
So that the people of the countryside are ready and armed.”

Then he said, “Good night!” and with mock oar
He rowed in silence to the shore of Charlestown,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where was the wide swing of her moorings
The Somerset, British man-of-war:
A ghost ship, with every mast and spar
Across the moon, like a prison bar,
And a huge black helmet, which was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend, by alley and street
Wander and look with eager ears,
Until in the silence that surrounds him he feels it
The meeting of men at the door of the barracks,
The sound of guns and the trampling of feet,
And the measured step of the grenadiers
Parading to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed the church tower,
Climbing the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
In the bell tower chamber above,
And startled the doves from their perch
On the shadowy beams, which surrounded him
Shadow masses and shapes in motion,
By the trembling staircase, steep and high,
In the highest window on the wall,
Where he stopped to listen and look down
A moment on the rooftops of the city,
And the moonlight flows over everything.

Below, in the cemetery, lay the dead,
In his night camp on the hill,
Wrapped in a silence so deep and still
That I could hear, like the step of a sentinel,
The watchful night wind, as it went
Crawling from tent to tent,
And seemed to whisper, “All is well!”
For a moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the time, and of the secret fear
Of the lonely bell tower and the dead;
Because suddenly all his thoughts are bent
In a gloomy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,
A line of black, which bends and floats
On the rise of the tide, like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to ride and ride,
Boots and spurs, with a great step,
On the opposite bank Paul Revere walked.
Now he patted his horse’s side,
Now looking at the landscape from far and near,
Then impetuous stamped the earth,
And he turned and tightened his saddle girdle;
But most of all he looked with anxious search
The bell tower of the old northern church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and gloomy and still.
And look! as he looks, at the height of the bell tower,
A flash, and then a flash of light!
Jump on the saddle, turn the bridle,
But he dares and looks, to his full view
A second light in the bell tower burns!

A rush of hooves in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a mass in the dark,
And beneath the pebbles, incidentally, a spark
Struck by a steed that flies fearlessly and floats:
That was it! And yet, through darkness and light,
A nation’s destiny was to ride that night;
And the spark extinguished that steed, in his flight,
He set the earth on fire with his heat.

He has left the village and gone up the hill,
And beneath it, calm, wide and deep,
It is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alder trees, which border its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now hard on the ledge,
The tramp of his horse can be heard as he rides.

It was twelve o’clock by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into the town of Medford.
He heard the cock crow,
And the barking of the farmer’s dog,
And I felt the humidity of the mist of the river,
That comes out when the sun goes down.

It was one o’clock on the town clock,
When he galloped to Lexington.
He saw the golden cookie
Swim in the moonlight as it passed,
And the windows of the meeting room, empty and bare,
Look at him with a spectral gaze,
As if they were already horrified
To the bloody work they would watch.

It was two o’clock by the village clock,
When he reached the bridge in the city of Concord.
He heard the bellowing of the herd,
And the twitter of the birds in the trees,
And I felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the brown meadows.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who on the bridge would be the first to fall,
Who would be dead that day,
Pierced by a British musket ball.

You know the rest. In the books you read,
As the British regulars fired and fled,
As the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind every fence and yard wall,
Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to go out again
Under the trees at the fork in the road,
And only pausing to shoot and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so during the night went his cry of alarm
In every village and farm in Middlesex,
A cry of defiance, not of fear,
A voice in the dark, a knock at the door,
And a word that will resonate forever more!
Because, carried by the night wind of the past,
Throughout our entire history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and danger and need,
People will wake up and listen
The hurried hooves of that steed,
And Paul Revere’s Midnight Message.


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