Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
- Paul has been waiting on the other side of the river, and he's itching to get started. He's got his boots and spurs on and he's ready to ride.
- A quick style note: see how Longfellow brings up his "heavy stride"? That's maybe the fourth footstep reference in thirty lines. Just another way he makes it all fit together.
Now he patted his horse's side,
Now gazed at the landscape far and near,
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle-girth
- The suspense builds a little more.
- Paul fidgets, pats his horse, walks around, and plays with his saddle-girth (the strap that goes around the horse's belly and holds the saddle on).
- Longfellow wants us to feel Paul's impatience. He highlights that by calling Paul "impetuous," which means reckless and passionate.
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry-tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
- All Paul needs to get going is that signal from his friend. He's got his eyes on the spooky old belfry-tower, but there's nothing yet.
- Longfellow is still building tension, like a rubber band stretching until it's about to break.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry's height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
- All of a sudden, wham, there it is: the light.
- That's the signal, and when it finally shows up, we realize we've been waiting for it as eagerly as Paul has.
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns!
- He jumps in the saddle, he's ready to go! But, being a smart guy, he waits a second and suddenly sees a second lantern. That means by sea!
- OK, that wasn't such a surprise, but we're glad Paul didn't take off yelling the wrong message. It's hard to be a Revolutionary hero if you mess up on something like that.
A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark
- Everything up to this point has been still and spooky and quiet, with lots of nervous waiting. Now, suddenly, we're moving, and moving fast.
- Paul and his horse go zooming through the countryside. All people hear is the sound of his hooves, and all they see is a dark, speeding shape.
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet
- The horse is galloping so fast (or "fleet" as Longfellow puts it) that its metal shoes make sparks when they hit the stones of the road.
- This is a great image of speed and danger and excitement, but it's also a big old symbol of freedom and courage.
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night
- Of course Paul Revere isn't just a dude on his horse. This is the beginning of the United States of America. Longfellow has been pretty good about not shoving this in our faces, but now he goes for it: "the fate of a nation was riding on that night."
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
- That spark from the horse's hooves is the spark of revolution and freedom, and it starts a fire.
- Well, not really, but it gets the folks in the countryside riled up and ready to fight. Longfellow is saying that the spark of Paul Revere's ride started the fire of the Revolution.