The Landlord's Tale. Paul Revere's Ride

Original Text: 
The Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, with Bibliographical and Critical Notes, Riverside Edition (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin, 1890), IV, 25-29. PS 2250 E90 Robarts Library.
2Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
3On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
4Hardly a man is now alive
5Who remembers that famous day and year.
6He said to his friend, "If the British march
7By land or sea from the town to-night,
8Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
9Of the North Church tower as a signal light,--
10One, if by land, and two, if by sea;
11And I on the opposite shore will be,
12Ready to ride and spread the alarm
13Through every Middlesex village and farm,
14For the country folk to be up and to arm."
15Then he said, "Good night!" and with muffled oar
17Just as the moon rose over the bay,
18Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
19The Somerset, British man-of-war;
20A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
21Across the moon like a prison bar,
22And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
23By its own reflection in the tide.
24Meanwhile, his friend, through alley and street,
25Wanders and watches with eager ears,
26Till in the silence around him he hears
27The muster of men at the barrack door,
28The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
29And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
30Marching down to their boats on the shore.
31Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
32By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
33To the belfry-chamber overhead,
34And startled the pigeons from their perch
35On the sombre rafters, that round him made
36Masses and moving shapes of shade, --
37By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
38To the highest window in the wall,
39Where he paused to listen and look down
40A moment on the roofs of the town,
41And the moonlight flowing over all.
42Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
43In their night-encampment on the hill,
44Wrapped in silence so deep and still
45That he could hear, like a sentinel's tread,
46The watchful night-wind, as it went
47Creeping along from tent to tent,
48And seeming to whisper, "All is well!"
49A moment only he feels the spell
50Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
51Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
52For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
53On a shadowy something far away,
54Where the river widens to meet the bay, --
55A line of black that bends and floats
56On the rising tide, like a bridge of boats.
57Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
58Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
59On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
60Now he patted his horse's side,
61Now gazed at the landscape far and near,
62Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
63And turned and tightened his saddle girth;
64But mostly he watched with eager search
65The belfry-tower of the Old North Church,
66As it rose above the graves on the hill,
67Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
68And lo! as he looks, on the belfry's height
69A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
70He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
71But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
72A second lamp in the belfry burns!
73A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
74A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
75And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
76Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet:
77That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
78The fate of a nation was riding that night;
79And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
80Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
81He has left the village and mounted the steep,
82And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
84And under the alders, that skirt its edge,
85Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
86Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.
87It was twelve by the village clock,
89He heard the crowing of the cock,
90And the barking of the farmer's dog,
91And felt the damp of the river fog,
92That rises after the sun goes down.
93It was one by the village clock,
95He saw the gilded weathercock
96Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
97And the meeting-house windows, blank and bare,
98Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
99As if they already stood aghast
100At the bloody work they would look upon.
101It was two by the village clock,
103He heard the bleating of the flock,
104And the twitter of birds among the trees,
105And felt the breath of the morning breeze
106Blowing over the meadows brown.
107And one was safe and asleep in his bed
108Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
109Who that day would be lying dead,
110Pierced by a British musket-ball.
111You know the rest. In the books you have read,
112How the British Regulars fired and fled, --
113How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
114From behind each fence and farm-yard wall,
115Chasing the red-coats down the lane,
116Then crossing the fields to emerge again
117Under the trees at the turn of the road,
118And only pausing to fire and load.
119So through the night rode Paul Revere;
120And so through the night went his cry of alarm
121To every Middlesex village and farm, --
122A cry of defiance and not of fear,
123A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
124And a word that shall echo forevermore!
125For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
126Through all our history, to the last,
127In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
128The people will waken and listen to hear
129The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
130And the midnight message of Paul Revere.


1] "April 5, 1860. 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 next day Mr. Longfellow set up his poem of Paul Revere's Ride, and on the 19th noted in his diary: `I wrote a few lines in Paul Revere's Ride; this being the day of that achievement.'" (Editor, p. 25.)
"It is possible that Mr. Longfellow derived the story from Paul Revere's account of the incident in a letter to Dr. Jeremy Belknap, printed in Mass. His. Coll. v. Mr. Frothingham, in his Siege of Boston, pp. 57-59, gives the story mainly according to a memorandum of Richard Devens, Revere's friend and associate. The publication of Mr. Longfellow's poem called out a protracted discussion both as to the church from which the signals were hung, and as to the friend who hung the lanterns. The subject is discussed and authorities cited in Memorial History of Boston, III. 101." (Editor, pp. 261-62.) Back to Line
16] the Charlestown shore: a district of Boston, Massachusetts, on the harbour between the mouths of the Charles and Mystic rivers. Back to Line
83] the Mystic: river flowing through Boston into its harbour. Back to Line
88] Medford: town north of Boston. Back to Line
94] Lexington: town northwest of Boston. Back to Line
102] Concord town: town northwest of Boston. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
Publication Notes: 
In Tales of a Wayside Inn
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1998.