Paul Revere's Ride
Analysis: Form and Meter
Regular Rhyme, Varied Meter
Longfellow is known for using regular rhyme and meter. For the most part, that's the case in this poem, but things do get a little complicated in a few places. Let's start with the easy part: the rhyme.
Part of what makes the poem fun and easy to understand is its noticeable rhymes. Keep your eyes open, though, because Longfellow likes to switch up the pattern of the rhyme so things don't get too predictable. If you really want to see how this poem works, you can go through the whole thing and note how the last words in each line rhyme with the words around them. If that doesn't sound fun (and we can see how it might not), we'll do a quick demonstration. We'll use the old English-teacher trick of assigning a letter to each rhyme. Here's the first stanza:
LISTEN, my children, and you shall hear A
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere, A
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five; B
Hardly a man is now alive B
Who remembers that famous day and year. A 5
He said to his friend, 'If the British march C
By land or sea from the town to-night, D
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch C
Of the North Church tower as a signal light, D
One, if by land, and two, if by sea; E 10
And I on the opposite shore will be, E
Ready to ride and spread the alarm F
Through every Middlesex village and farm, F
For the country folk to be up and to arm.' F
In some ways, it's pretty regular, even kind of sing-songy: hear, Revere, or five, alive. But sometimes things do switch around. Sometimes the rhymes alternate (like in lines 6 to 9, CDCD), and sometimes they come all in a row (like at the end of the stanza: alarm, farm, arm, FFF).
It's a little like that with the other parts of the form: not crazy and experimental, but not all that regular either. The stanzas, for example, are of all different lengths. The meter, too, switches up a lot. We won't go into all the details, since it's a long poem, but here are the basics: Longfellow mostly uses two kinds of meter here: (1) the iamb (an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable – da-DUM) and (2) the anapest (a scary-sounding word for two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable – da-da-DUM).
Don't worry, we'll look at a couple of lines to give you a feel for it. Line 2, for example, is made up of an anapest followed by three iambs. We'll mark the stressed syllables in bold and divide the meter up with slashes:
Of the mid|night ride | of Paul | Revere
See that? Three syllables in the first group (or "foot") – that's the anapest – then three groups of two (the iambs).
Let's look at line 3 just to make sure you get the whole anapest thing. That's really what gives this poem its special sound and sort of galloping-horse rhythm:
On the eight|eenth of A|pril, in Sev|enty-five
Ta-da! Four anapests. You're thrilled, we know. See how it works? It's still four groups of syllables (four feet), but now each one is a three-syllable anapest. Keep that rhythm in mind (da-da-DUM) – it's the key to this poem's form. If you want extra nerd points in English class, we'll tell you that a line with four anapests like that is written in "anapestic tetrameter."