Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Then he said, 'Good-night!' and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore
- Sneaky plan in place, Paul says good night to his friend. He rows across the river with "muffled oar."
- To muffle (to make quiet) would probably be wrapping some cloth around the oars.
- Paul is on a dangerous mission and doesn't want to be caught. Keep an eye out for little ways that Longfellow increases the tension to make this poem exciting.
- Paul ends up in Charlestown, which is across the Charles River from the city of Boston.
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war
- This is the first spooky little side trip Longfellow takes us on. He's already given us the main plot information: Paul rowing to Charlestown. Now he stops to tell us a little about the setting and the ship Paul sees on his trip across the river.
- It's a big British war ship (a "man-of-war") named the Somerset, tied up at anchor ("swinging wide at its moorings") out in the bay.
- For extra-creepy effect, it's also lit up by the rising moon.
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
- Now the poem kind of turns into a ghost story. The Somerset is described as a "phantom ship." The masts and the pieces of wood that cross them (the "spars") are compared to prison bars over the moon behind them.
- Ever seen the moon all big and orange when it's just coming up? That's exactly how we picture this, like Halloween in April.
By its own reflection in the tide.
- The ship in the dark looks like a big, scary black shape, and its reflection in the water makes it seem even bigger.
- It's a reminder of the danger that Paul is in, and it's also a big fat symbol of British domination.