In Massachusetts, Patriots Day, April 18th, is celebrated with great fervor and pride. On Lexington Green, the shot heard round the world is fired once more - and is followed by a faithful reenactment of the first battle of the American Revolution. Shortly after, in Hopkinton, another gun is fired, and thousands of hopefuls leap off the starting line of the Boston Marathon. The holiday then, is at once about freedom and fresh starts. It is a spring holiday - with a capital "s". Pale green budding trees and rock walls lined with daffodils call forth the youth of the commonwealth. Balloon men line the busy avenues.
In fact, it was on just such a Massachusetts April day that the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and his friend, Charles Sumner, found themselves wandering around Boston's North End. This was the April of 1860 - our nation on the brink of civil war. Together, the friends mounted the stairs of the Old North Church and as Longfellow drew in the crisp air, he thought back on the early, formative days of our country, and resolved that he would endeavor to write about the lanterns - "Two if by sea" that had once hung in those eaves - and about a certain spirited patriot.
Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Longfellow's characteristic voice - which often portrayed a romantic, Eden-like vision of youthful America - combined with a palpable tension to create a memorable piece. - When Revere nervously fiddles with his saddle waiting for the signal from the Old North Church the reader is as impatient to get under hoof as the messenger - and as the bells chime, midnight, one and two by the village clocks, the tolling of destiny echoes from the page. At the same time, it is a work of historical inaccuracies. Revere did not wait for the signal from the church. In fact, Revere himself ordered the two lanterns lit before he left the city. And he arrived in Lexington at midnight, not one - and he never made it to Concord. And Longfellow left out a few names, such as the other rider who made it to Lexington that night, William Dawes, and the name of Revere's famous steed, the fastest mare in Charlestown, who was supposed to have been called Brown Beauty. Yet, Longfellow did capture something real in his Ride of Paul Revere when he wrote:
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door
Copyright 2005© Kevin Shortsleeve
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