"To Arms, the Confederacy Is Coming."
When I was in high school, I had to memorize hundreds of lines of prose or poetry each semester. I recall standing before Mrs. Davis early one morning in my senior year reciting that first stanza of Henry Wordsworth Longfellow's Paul Revere's Ride.
However, while I memorized it correctly, I did not get the complete meaning of the last half of that stanza.
Anyone who was old enough to have remembered Paul Revere's ride would have had to have been in his or her early 90s. It should be noted that Longfellow lived only until he was 75. Therefore, Longfellow understood that hardly a man or woman would have been still alive when Paul Revere warned them that the British were coming.
Maybe that is why Longfellow messed up some details of the midnight ride of Paul Revere. Perhaps. Here are several examples of Longfellow's confusion:
Longfellow made many mistakes regarding the midnight ride of Revere, which seems rather strange. Longfellow attended Bowdoin College along with Nathaniel Hawthorne. Longfellow was a Phi Beta Kappa while at Bowdoin. Bowdoin hired him as a professor after graduation from his alma mater. Therefore, his poem, The Ride of Paul Revere, was not due to sloppy research on Longfellow's part.
Who can explain Longfellow's editing events that began the American Revolution? Enter Pablo Picasso and his seemingly paradoxical statement,
What Picasso said is what we call today poetic license. Longfellow used poetic license to get a more important message across than the historic details. Longfellow wrote Paul Revere's Ride in 1860. The reason for Longfellow's poetic license was that the United States was dealing with slavery. When John Brown was hanged in 1859, Longfellow wrote, "This will be a great day in our history, the date of a new Revolution quite as much needed as the old one."
Longfellow wrote Paul Revere's Ride in December of 1860. On December 20, 1860, South Carolina seceded from the Union. The next month, January 1861, The Atlantic Monthly published Longfellow's poem.
In a sense, Longfellow became Revere and rallied the North with the poetic license in his poem. He warned the North that the South was coming, which they did when the Confederates fired upon Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. Longfellow's poem inspired the North to get ready for war. The Civil War was for Longfellow the second American Revolution.
I am very glad that Longfellow used poetic license. The Paul Revere's Ride did get some in the North to get ready for the second American Revolution. However, a century and a half after the beginning of the Civil War another Longfellow is rewriting Paul Revere's Ride.
In all fairness, if you could not hear clearly Sarah Palin's poetic recounting of Paul Revere's ride, this is it.
Fortunately, others understood Paul Revere's Ride.
This video is a reading of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Paul Revere's Ride.