Paul Revere's Ride
The Supernatural Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar (lines 20-21)
In this description of the Somerset, a British warship, Longfellow really hypes up the scary Halloween angle. The basic point here is that the British and their army are scary. They're here to intimidate and oppress the colonists, and their navy is one way they keep the colonies in a symbolic prison. Of course, the real story was more complicated, but this ghost-story image of the phantom ship gives us a pretty good idea of who the bad guys are.
Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night-encampment on the hill (lines 42-43)
This is a sort of cool little side story tucked inside the bigger story. All Longfellow has to say here is that Paul's buddy went up to the top of the tower and hung up two lanterns. Instead, he gives us twenty-five lines (one-fifth of the poem!) that describe the look and feel of that climb. A big part of that description is imagining the graveyard down below coming to life. This night is so strange that the dead in their graves become a kind of sleeping army. The speaker hypnotizes us with this tale of the ghosts that haunt Boston almost just to show off his ability to create a mood.
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread (lines 49-50)
Then, all of a sudden, Paul's friend snaps out of it, and we do too. We remember that there's work to be done here, that we came to learn about Paul Revere, not get wrapped up in a ghost story. We're not sure why the poem went off this way. You could cut it out and not lose any plot, but the poem would feel less rich and exciting and strange. Part of the fun of the poem is its almost movie-like quality. You feel and hear and see so many different things in a little over a hundred lines.