Paul Revere's Ride
Memory and the Past Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
LISTEN, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere (lines 1-2)
This opening makes us feel like we're sitting in a circle at story time in kindergarten. It prepares us to be moved to another time and place and promises that the story will be worth hearing. The speaker is identifying an audience and gathering it around him. Notice that he doesn't start out by telling us that this really happened. We get a clue if we already know who Paul Revere is, but history isn't the main point of these opening lines. Instead, the speaker puts us in a fairy-tale mood, preparing us for an exciting, entertaining story.
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year. (lines 3-5)
Here's where we get into details about the past. The date is the big clue. Even if we only remember a little about the Revolutionary War, we know that 1775 was an important time. So we're going to get a little history lesson. The other clever thing Longfellow does is add that bit about how "hardly a man is now alive." That's not as correct as a date, but it lets us know that the "now" of the poem is about a lifetime away from the war. So this poem is about two pasts – the distant past of the War, and the less-distant past when this story is being told by the speaker.
You know the rest. In the books you have read (line 111)
Here the speaker directly connects this story to American history. He is thinking that we all know the basic history of the Revolution while he just fills in the details. That doesn't mean you should feel bad if you don't remember the battles of Lexington and Concord – we had to go look up the details, too. What this line does is make us feel like part of the club: Americans who know their history. It also lets the speaker off the hook: this way he doesn't have to tell the whole story of the Revolutionary War.