Context: Tales of a Wayside Inn is a collection of narrative poems resembling The Canterbury Tales. Like Chaucer, Longfellow describes a group of people who gathered at an inn (the Red Horse Inn) and told tales. The group includes a musician, a student, a Sicilian, a Spanish Jew, a theologian, and a poet. The landlord begins the tales with the story of Paul Revere, who rode from Boston to Lexington on April 18, 1775, to alert the militia to the approach of the British. Revere tells his friend (whose identity is unknown) to signal him from the Old North Church of the approach of the British. He then rows "to the Charlestown shore" as the moon rises over "The Somerset, British man-of-war." The friend climbs the church tower and sees "a bridge of boats" on the water. Seeing two lights from the tower, Revere "springs to the saddle" and rides to awaken the countryside. The first two stanzas of the poem present the situation:
Listen, my children, and you shall hearOf the midnight ride of Paul Revere,On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;Hardly a man is now aliveWho remembers that famous day and year.. . .