Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night-encampment on the hill
- The creepiness continues as Longfellow reminds us of the dead people in the churchyard (a graveyard around a church) down below.
- He imagines them being like an army asleep in a camp ("their night-encampment").
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel's tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, 'All is well!'
- This poem is all about seeing and hearing, and Longfellow pulls us into the moment with his careful description of sights and sounds.
- Right now the only thing Paul's friend can hear is the wind. He imagines that it sounds like a "sentinel's tread" (the footsteps of the soldier who is guarding a camp).
- The image here is that the wind is like a soldier guarding the graveyard, moving among the dead people's tents and letting them know that everything is OK.
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead
- Everything is not OK, however; there's work to be done tonight.
- Suddenly Paul's friend snaps out of it and breaks the "spell" of the creepy belfry. With that, the second spooky ghost story comes to an end.
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,—
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide, like a bridge of boats.
- The sight of the British ships pulls the narrator back into the moment and the mission. The army is crossing the river on its way to the other side.
- He spends a little time describing the image of these ships, which form a line across the river that looks like a bridge made of boats.