By Grace Rozembajgier
“On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five; Hardly a man is now alive who remembers that famous day and year” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Paul Revere’s Ride
Today marks the 241st anniversary of revolutionary Paul Revere’s midnight ride to warn the colonists the time had come to fight for freedom from England. This event was famed by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous poem, Paul Revere’s Ride. April 18 not only commemorates the beginning of our country’s fight for freedom, but also the power of the individual and our ability to make a difference.
In 1860, Longfellow wrote Paul Revere’s Ride, retelling the story of the very beginning of the American Revolution. This poem is an excellent example of traditional poetic devices such as cadence, onomatopoeia, alliteration, and imagery. However, it had a specific reason for being written. While this poem is not entirely historically accurate – failing to include William Dawes or Samuel Prescott, the other midnight riders, or how Revere was captured and did not actually make it all the way to Concord – Longfellow used literary license with a specific purpose. He created an American hero out of Revere, who was essentially an unknown Patriot at the time. Longfellow, an open abolitionist, wrote the poem on the eve of the Civil War as a call for action and an effort to coalesce the Union around the idea of patriotism. The poem was published on December 20, 1860, for the January edition of The Atlantic Monthly, just as South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union. An accomplished poet at the time, Longfellow used his influence to share his message. Longfellow used the last war fought on American soil and connected it to the war approaching his country in 1860 in an effort to exhibit how history can repeat itself.
This poem has a special significance to me. Sixty years ago my grandfather, John Dilenschneider, started reading Paul Revere’s Ride to his children each year on April 18th as a way to remember an important part of American history. As they grew up, his ten children and their spouses continued the tradition by reading the poem to their children. The Keep the Ride Alive® effort was born from this custom.
My family created Keep the Ride Alive® in 1997. This movement is a way to recognize my grandfather’s tradition and also a way to spread the idea of keeping our own “rides” alive with the idea that each individual can play an important role. Each year Keep the Ride Alive® t-shirts are produced and sent out worldwide. As of today, Keep the Ride Alive® has had over 2,000 participants. Students in the Carmel Clay Schools, as well as the University of Notre Dame, the University of Southern California, the University of Chicago, the Ohio State University, and the University of Wisconsin participate in this event each year. The shirts are worn in almost every state in the US and also internationally in England, Japan, Italy, Canada, Scotland, Dubai, and other countries.
Since Longfellow famed the day in 1860, April 18th has been a day that recognizes American patriotism. The Keep the Ride Alive® effort highlights this message, remembering Paul Revere and his fellow Patriots. But more importantly, it celebrates a day for each of us to recognize our potential as individuals to make a difference and to keep our ride alive.
Paul Revere’s Ride
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,–
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm.”
Then he said “Good-night!” and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.
Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street
Wanders and watches, with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.
Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,–
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town
And the moonlight flowing over all.
Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, “All is well!”
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,–
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide like a bridge of boats.
Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse’s side,
Now he gazed at the landscape far and near,
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns.
A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.
It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer’s dog,
And felt the damp of the river fog,
That rises after the sun goes down.
It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, black and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.
It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadow brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket ball.
You know the rest. 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,
Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.
So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,—
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.