Study Guide

Paul Revere's Ride Man and the Natural World

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Man and the Natural World

One, if by land, and two, if by sea (line 10)

This might seem kind of obvious at first, but we think it's worth thinking about: this famous line is all about nature.  The poem is concerned with an event, and human actions, but it's full of geography and the landscape, too.  We hear a lot about rivers and tides and fields and trees.  It's easy to overlook, but the land and the sea are a big part of what makes this poem fit together so well.

Just as the moon rose over the bay (line 17)

Here's another big nature moment, partly because the moon is such an important part of the world of the poem.  The moon and its light reminds us that the ride is happening in secret, in the dark, but it also lends a spooky mood to much of the poem. 

Where the river widens to meet the bay (line 54)

The speaker gives us a really specific detail here.  This isn't just some generic river; it's a specific spot on the Charles River in Boston.  We are supposed to get a feel for that specific spot and what it would be like to look down on it from the church tower on an April night.  The poem is about big-picture issues in American history, but it shows them through careful and interesting, images like this one.  The flow of water and the New England landscape both help keep this poem grounded in the real world.

And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides  (lines 82-83)

There's a lot of running around in this poem, so we want to make sure you take a second to check out the quiet moments, too.  It would be really easy to get rid of these lines because they don't do anything to keep the plot moving.  If this were an action movie, the scene would probably end up being taken out.  But even action movies need moments where the audience can stop to breathe and look around a little.  In order to make the action hit even harder, Longfellow drops in some quiet natural moments, giving us a quick rest and some time to think.

And felt the breath of the morning breeze   
Blowing over the meadows brown (lines 105-106)

Another quiet spot, but also a warning of what's to come.  The morning that comes with that breeze is going to bring a lot of blood and suffering.  Like the moon earlier in the poem, this breeze is quiet and natural but also a little spooky.  The brown grass is another detail that seems both peaceful and gloomy.  Grass in April in New England <em>would</em> still be brown, but we also get a hint of death here.