Paul Revere's Ride
Visions of America Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year. (lines 3-5)
This is Longfellow's version of the very beginnings of America, the moment when colonists took up arms to separate themselves from Britain. He turns Paul Revere's ride into the spark that started that fire. That doesn't mean that this is the only possible version of that story. You could write a poem about any "starting points" for America. Still, this poem is pretty clear about a specific idea of America's birth: it starts with the heroic actions of a few people, then picks up speed as it goes on.
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night (lines 77-78)
This wasn't about one battle or one guy on a horse. In this line, the speaker shares with us how serious this is. The "fate of a nation" depends on Paul's success, a nation that didn't yet exist. This poem looks at the past, present, and future all at once. Everything is full of danger, fear, and tension. It's all about being on the brink of war. That's a great moment for a poet to pick, because it's super dramatic. Things could go either way: success or failure, brand new nation or British colony. And it's that very nation that is in danger over eighty years later, when Longfellow is writing the poem, on the brink of the Civil War.
You know the rest. In the books you have read,
How the British Regulars fired and fled (lines 111-112)
Things turned out OK that night: America emerged from the blood and fire of war. Everything after that moment becomes part of the American story we all know. Notice the "you" in line 111; that little word matters a lot. It makes us, the audience, part of a unified group. We have all supposedly heard the same stories and read the same books. That's another vision of America: a bunch of people from very different backgrounds united by their shared history. We don't need to have a big debate about whether that vision is true, but keep in mind that this poem assumes that it is.