Paul Revere's Ride
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Analysis: Sound Check
The sounds of the poem go through different stages, as Longfellow takes you through Revere's busy night. At the beginning – up until about line 72, when Paul takes off on his horse – everything is soft and muffled, almost like an old pocket watch wrapped in fabric. You can still hear a steady ticking through the cloth, but you have to listen really hard. Everything is secret and stealthy, but also dangerous. Have you ever watched a storm coming toward you and listened to the rumble of the thunder? At first it's very quiet (if you can hear it at all), just a soft booming far away, with little bursts of noise. Try reading these lines aloud:
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide, like a bridge of boats (lines 55-56)
It would be tough to yell those lines, but you can feel the quiet danger in them. Hear those b sounds: "black," "bends," "bridge" and "boats"? Don't they sort of explode quietly from your mouth? We won't push this too hard, just think about the image and sound of distant thunder, coming closer and closer.
Then, as Paul swings into action, everything changes. It isn't soft thunder anymore. Now it's all lightning cracks, galloping hooves, snare drum rolls! As Paul whizzes though the countryside, the poem picks up speed with him, and the whole sound of it becomes quick and nervous:
A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark (lines 73-74)
Short words and sharp, hard, sounds coming faster and faster. It's like that faraway storm has arrived and unleashed a hard rain on us. Every now and then it lets up, getting quiet and soft again like a gentle shower, but we bet you'll feel the difference in sound between the first and second halves.