If you stopped a person on the street and asked her what she knew about Paul Revere, she'd most likely tell you about his ride. That's probably because of this poem. If you asked that same person about the big events of the American Revolution, Paul Revere's Ride might be near the top of the list. This is one of those cases where a poem can change the way America thinks about its history. A poem with a little over a hundred catchy lines was enough to turn Paul Revere into a very famous name. Without this poem, he might not have been very well remembered.
That's exactly the way author Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wanted it. When this poem was first published in the Atlantic Monthly magazine in 1861, the Civil War was about to begin. Longfellow wrote this poem to tell a story and inspire Americans (particularly Northerners). He wanted to remind them about the importance of unity and courage when faced with danger and he used the Revolution for his example. It worked pretty well, judging by the popularity this poem has had.
Sometimes the fact that a poem is super famous works against it. Kids are forced to memorize it in school and everyone gets a little tired of hearing it. We think that might have happened with this poem. Maybe you even wound up here because you're being forced to study it.
So let's take a step back. This poem became famous for a reason. Trust us, there were lots of poems written in the 1860s that you will never, ever hear about. This one lasted. Why? Because it's catchy, easy to remember, and flat-out exciting. It tells a great story and does it in a way that keeps you interested.
Some people hate on Longfellow for writing for the common people instead of for the college professors and educated writers. Guess what – we think that's great. We're all for poems being thrilling and easy to get into. Think of "Paul Revere's Ride" like a summer blockbuster. Maybe it doesn't twist your brain into knots with every line, but we'd be surprised if you aren't cheering for the good guys at the end. Grab your popcorn, forget what you thought you knew about this famous American poem, and enjoy the ride.