Friday, April 18, 2014

The 18th of April in '75

"LISTEN, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,

On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.        5
He said to his friend, ‘If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,—
One, if by land, and two, if by sea;        10
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm."

For many years I had my 8th grade American History students memorize those first few lines of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's famous poem, Paul Revere's Ride. Longfellow actually wrote the poem so many years after the event that the line "hardly a man is now alive" was truly accurate at the time of the writing.

What wasn't accurate was much of the information in the poem itself.  Longfellow was completely aware of his inaccuracies, but justified them to himself and others as a poet taking license with reality in order to give more meaning to the event. In truth, two other men made that ride with Revere, who didn't even complete the ride because he was captured during the first leg of his journey. William Dawes and Samuel Prescott were both lost in history due to Longfellow's taking poetic license with the true events that occurred that evening.¹

So why did I have my students memorize that poem? I did it because I've always had students memorize certain things in order to stimulate their brains. A certain bit of memorization is good for everyone, and those words will often stay with a person for many years. I always believed that it was good for students to use memorization in order to learn important pieces of history, such as the "Preamble to the Constitution" and the first three paragraphs of Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address."

But I think I mainly had them memorize it because I personally always loved the poem, with its beauty and its rhythm. The students often sang it or rapped it and made the memorization of it something they enjoyed, which was not often the case in the previously mentioned memorization pieces. It was also a good "teaching tool," as I let them know that as important and famous as the poem was, it wasn't altogether true. Ah, the lessons and discussions that came from those moments!

On this 239th anniversary of that famous date in history, I thought I'd give homage to the poem and the lessons that we should learn from it. If you'd like to know more about what really happened that night, use the link provided in my source to read a fairly good article about the night of the 18th of April in '75.

¹ Ewers, Justin. "Rewriting the Legend of Paul Revere." U.S. News and World Report. (June 27, 2008)
@2014 Copyright by Carla Love Maitland

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