Paul Revere's Ride Theme of Memory and the Past
Longfellow makes a big deal about looking back at the past in "Paul Revere's Ride." He definitely gives us an action-packed version of the night's events, but he wants us to remember that this was history even when he wrote it. He obviously thinks it's important that we keep the memory of the Revolutionary times alive, so he wrote a poem that's entertaining but also carries a little history lesson with it. Think of this like pre-TV "Schoolhouse Rock," the 1860 version of educational edutainment.
Questions About Memory and the Past
- Do you feel like you're looking deep into the past when you read this poem, or does Revere's ride feel fresh and exciting and present?
- Do you think this poem is as effective today as it would have been when it was written, just before the Civil War? Has our relationship to the past changed?
- How would the poem change if you cut out the references to the past at the beginning and end and just told the story directly?
- Is it OK to change the past when you write a poem about it? Does a poem have to be as accurate as a history text?
Chew on This
Longfellow's poem constantly plays with time and manages to link past, present, and future in interesting and unexpected ways.
"Paul Revere's Ride" creates a fantasy version of the past that changes the facts while pretending to offer a historical lesson.