This poem describes the action-packed night of April 18, 1775, the famous ride of Paul Revere. It starts in Boston, where Paul and a friend are talking about the British army. They think the soldiers are going to leave Boston that night, but they aren't sure whether they will go by land or sea.
Paul has a plan to warn people in the countryside about the British coming, but he needs to know which direction they are taking. So the two men agree on a secret code: Paul's friend will signal him by hanging one lantern in the church belfry (the tall tower in a church where the bells are hung) if the British are marching out on land, two lanterns if they are leaving in boats. After agreeing on this plan, Paul rows across the river and waits for the signal.
Paul's buddy in Boston snoops around and finds out that the British are going with the boats. So he climbs up to the church steeple, takes a moment to look around, sees the British ships, and hangs out his two lanterns.
On the other side of the river, Paul is all ready to go. He sits on his horse, fiddles with his saddle, and watches the church. Suddenly, he sees the signal and takes off to let the people in the countryside know that the British are coming by sea. He races through the countryside, hitting a new town every hour and calling out to warn people in each place. By midnight he's in Medford, by one he's made it to Lexington, and by two, he gets to Concord.
That's about all we hear about the actual ride. The rest of the poem gives a quick, simple review of the battles that happened the next day. It closes by telling us that, in some spooky way, Paul Revere's warning will echo down through history, whenever the country is in trouble. Makes him sound a little like Batman, doesn't it – although "The Midnight Ride of Batman" wouldn't be such a catchy title.