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." -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
It's difficult to keep old rural towns alive. Little villages of grocery stores and post offices, grange halls and lumber mills along the train tracks that rise off the map as you pass by then sink back into travel obscurity.
By land or sea from the town tonight
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.'" -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Barely subsiding. Ghost-town shells of former selves.
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore
Just as the moon rose over the bay
Where the swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war." -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
There's something so haunting and barren about old American towns that time has forgotten.
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." -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Unless there is an old brick facade of a historic courthouse or theater marquee or church tower steeple all beaten and torn but still standing, something to preserve, something for townspeople through the generations to hang on to, these old American towns are doomed to rise and slowly fade from memory.
Up the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread
To the belfry-chamber overhead...
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." -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I was reminded of this today, traveling along old Oregon Hwy 47 and 18, through the red barns of Gaston and the wineries of Yamhill County to the crossroads of Sheridan on the way to Lincoln City.
In their night-encampment on the hill
Wrapped in silence so deep and still...
Creeping along from tent to tent...
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." -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
What it takes to keep an old town or a memory alive.
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere...
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry-tower of the old North Church...
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!" -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Poetry is like this. Poems come and go inside a collective memory that slips and slides into faded oblivion.
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark
And beneath from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed that flies fearless and fleet." -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Poets of three names. Do people actually remember Henry Wadsworth Longfellow? Oliver Wendell Holmes? Henry Van Dyke? Ella Wheeler Wilcox? Henry Holcomb Bennett? John Greenleaf Wittier?
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides...
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides." -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere is one of those old and archaic poems written an eternity ago by an even more ancient and decrepit poet: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
When he crossed the bridge into Medford Town
He heard the crowing of the cock
And the barking of the farmer's dog...
It was one by the village clock
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed." -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The internet is full of this poem's dissection and its many fallacies and mistruths.
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..." -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
For instance, Revere wasn't alone. Two other men, one named Dawes, another Prescott, rode alongside him. Dawes became lost and fell off his horse. Prescott rounded up forty or so other men who rode in various directions. Furthermore, Revere never made it to Concord as he was captured by Redcoats.
Who at the bridge would be first to fall
Who that day would be lying dead
Pierced by a British musket ball." -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Further still, the poem is mocked for its sentimental descriptions of Revere... the wind in his hair, the gentle patting of his horse, the stamping of the earth... it's kind of corny. I'll grant you that, poem trolls!
How the British Regulars fired and fled
How the farmers gave them ball for ball
From behind each fence and farmyard wall
Chasing the red-coats 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." -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
But as a boy, this poem spoke to me. Alone in the fields doing chores... digging out muck from barn stalls, carrying buckets of water to horse troughs in the tall grass, standing on the edge of our farm property and looking down the logging roads as far as I could see...
And so through the night went his cry of alarm...
A cry of defiance, and not of fear
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door
And a word that shall echo forevermore!" -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I hoped that I would be worthy. That if the night came that my courage were tested... that I could summon the strength to saddle up and ride... to warn the neighbors, to warn the towns... that something was coming, something that would endanger our way of life. That I could hold back this approaching foe, as if holding back time itself.