The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

For generations of readers, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Paul Revere’s Ride” has defined the beginning of the American Revolution, and Revere has become an American hero. Longfellow’s primary concern was not historical accuracy, however; he portrays Revere as the only messenger, ignoring the equally important roles of William Dawes and other riders. From beginning to end, the poet consciously attempts to create a legend. Thus, in the first stanza, he adopts the persona of an older person transmitting a significant oral tradition to a younger generation (“Listen my children”) as he recounts events of eighty-six years earlier that influenced the course of American history. This stanza, the shortest in the poem, serves as prologue, a parallel to the patriotic epilogue in the final stanza.

Subsequent stanzas detail the events of “the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five.” The second stanza continues to develop the title character’s role as protector of his community; though Revere’s name is not mentioned here, Longfellow explains Revere’s scheme to alert the populace if the British initiate military action. The third stanza focuses upon the situation in Boston, emphasizing the intimidating power of the British military as embodied in the Somerset, a man-of-war that seems to dominate both the harbor and the city.

In the fourth stanza, Longfellow further emphasizes the vigilance of the colonists. The unnamed...

(The entire section is 537 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Common criticisms of Longfellow’s poetry involve its conventional diction, trite imagery, and excessive metrical uniformity. This poem contains some such flaws, especially in diction and syntax. For example, Longfellow refers to “the tramp of feet” and “the measured tread of the grenadiers” (stanza 4). Likewise, stanzas 9-12 contain such clichés as “the tramp of his steed,” “the crowing of the cock,” “the barking of the farmer’s dog,” the “spectral glare” of the meetinghouse windows, “the bleating of the flock,” “the twitter of birds,” and “the breath of the morning breeze.” Sometimes Longfellow also sacrifices syntactic clarity to rhyme scheme. The inverted syntax at the end of the first stanza may be justified by the need to establish an archaic tone, but a similar inversion in stanza 2 (“I on the opposite shore will be”) clearly is not realistic dialogue.

Much of the poem’s imagery also seems somewhat trite. For instance, the simile of the warship’s shadows as prison bars (stanza 3) is a bit heavy-handed. Likewise, repeated references to the moonlight (stanzas 3, 5, and 11) are a bit forced, especially in stanza 11, where the moonlight is described as gilding the meetinghouse’s weathercock. A similar objection could be raised concerning the metaphor of “the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight” as the beginning of the Revolution, and Longfellow’s physical descriptions often consist of...

(The entire section is 455 words.)


(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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