Paul Revere’s Ride in Context
Longfellow urges his readers to adopt the Minutemen’s
attitude toward oppression and tyranny.
When our kids were little, Missy and I used to read them Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous
poem about Paul Revere. It’s a great
poem—a classic by any definition. We
particularly like how the poem’s imagery takes us back in time, and we imagine ourselves in the Boston hinterland
rides out to warn his countrymen of the
British threat. Even the rhythm of the
LISTen my CHILDren and YOU shall
Of the MIDnight RIDE of PAUL reVERE.
In all the years that I read it to my children, I had never thought to ask them
what Longfellow’s poem was about. It
went without saying, I suppose. It’s about
the American Revolution, of course. It’s
about the famed Minutemen of Massachusetts and their heroic battle with the
British at Old North Bridge in Concord.
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day
and year . . .
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 . . .
But in larger sense, the poem is also
about the American spirit. It’s about how
Americans won’t stand for slavery and
how they fight against any and all threats
to their liberties. Longfellow urges his
readers to adopt the Minutemen’s atti-tude;toward;oppression;and;tyranny:
Through all our history, to the last
In the hour of darkness and peril
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.