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.
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;
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.”
Then he said “Good night!” and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war:
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon, like a prison-bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.
Meanwhile, his friend, through alley and street
Wanders and watches with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers
Marching down to their boats on the shore.
Then he climbed to the tower of the church,
Up the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry-chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,—
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town,
And the moonlight flowing over all.
Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night-encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, “All is well!”
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,—
A line of black, that bends and floats
On the rising tide, like a bridge of boats.
Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride,
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse’s side,
Now gazed on the landscape far and near,
Then impetuous stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle-girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry-tower of the old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height,
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns!
A hurry of hoofs in a village-street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed that flies fearless and fleet:
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders, that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.
It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer’s dog,
And felt the damp of the river-fog,
That rises when the sun goes down.
It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, blank and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.
It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadows brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket-ball.
You know the rest. In the books you have read,
How the British Regulars fired and fled,—
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard-wall,
Chasing the red-coats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.
So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,—
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo forevermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.
This poem is in the public domain.
The great, unequal conflict past, The Briton banish'd from our shore, Peace, heav'n-descended, comes at last, And hostile nations rage no more; From fields of death the weary swain Returning, seeks his native plain. In every vale she smiles serene, Freedom's bright stars more radiant rise, New charms she adds to every scene, Her brighter sun illumes our skies; Remotest realms admiring stand, And hail the Hero of our land: He comes!—the Genius of these lands— Fame's thousand tongues his worth confess, Who conquered with his suffering bands, And grew immortal by distress: Thus calms succeed the stormy blast, And valour is repaid at last. O Washington!—thrice glorious name, What due rewards can man decree— Empires are far below thy aim, And sceptres have no charms for thee; Virtue alone has thy regard, And she must be thy great reward. Encircled by extorted power, Monarchs must envy thy Retreat, Who cast, in some ill fated hour, Their country's freedom at their feet; 'Twas thine to act a nobler part For injur'd Freedom had thy heart. For ravag'd realms and conquer'd seas Borne gave the great imperial prize, And, swelTd with pride, for feats like these, Transferr'd her heroes to the skies:— A brighter scene your deeds display, You gain those heights a different way. When Faction rear'd her bristly head, And join'd with tyrants to destroy, Where'er you march' d the monster fled, Tim'rous her arrows to employ; Hosts catch'd from you a bolder flame, And despots trembled at your name. Ere war's dread horrors ceas'd to reign, What leader could your place supply?— Chiefs crowded to the embattled plain, Prepaid to conquer or to die— Heroes arose— but none like yon Could save our lives and freedom too. In swelling verse let kings be read, And princes shine in polish'd prose; Without such aid your triumphs spread Where'er the convex ocean flows, To Indian worlds by seas embrac'd, And Tartar, tyrant of the waste. Throughout the east you gain applause, And soon the Old World, taught by you, Shall blush to own her barbarous laws, Shall learn instruction from the New: Monarchs shall hear the humble plea, Nor urge too far the proud decree. Despising pomp and vain parade, At home you stay, while France and Spain The secret, ardent wish convey'd, And hail'd you to their shores in vain: In Vernon's groves you shun the throne, Admir'd by kings, but seen by none. Your fame, thus spread to distant lands, May envy's fiercest blasts endure, Like Egypt's pyramids it stands, Built on a basis more secure; Time's latest age shall own in you The patriot and the statesman too. Now hurrying from the busy scene, Where thy Potowmack's waters flow, Mayt thou enjoy thy rural reign, And every earthly blessing know; Thus He* whom Rome's proud legions sway'd, Beturn'd, and sought his sylvan shade. Not less in wisdom than in war Freedom shall still employ your mind, Slavery shall vanish, wide and far, 'Till not a trace is left behind; Your counsels not bestow'd in vain Shall still protect this infant reign, So when the bright, all-cheering sun From our contracted view retires, Though fools may think his race is run, On other worlds he lights his fires: Cold climes beneath his influence glow, And frozen rivers learn to flow. O say, thou great, exalted name! What Muse can boast of equal lays, Thy worth disdains all vulgar fame, Transcends the noblest poet's praise, Art soars, unequal to the flight, And genius sickens at the height. For States redeem'd— our western reign Restored by thee to milder sway, Thy conscious glory shall remain When this great globe is swept away, And all is lost that pride admires, And all the pageant scene expires. * Cincinnatus
December, 1783. This poem is in the public domain.
Although Tía Miriam boasted she discovered
at least half-a-dozen uses for peanut butter—
topping for guava shells in syrup,
butter substitute for Cuban toast,
hair conditioner and relaxer—
Mamá never knew what to make
of the monthly five-pound jars
handed out by the immigration department
until my friend, Jeff, mentioned jelly.
There was always pork though,
for every birthday and wedding,
whole ones on Christmas and New Year's Eves,
even on Thanksgiving Day—pork,
fried, broiled or crispy skin roasted—
as well as cauldrons of black beans,
fried plantain chips and yuca con mojito.
These items required a special visit
to Antonio's Mercado on the corner of 8th street
where men in guayaberas stood in senate
blaming Kennedy for everything—"Ese hijo de puta!"
the bile of Cuban coffee and cigar residue
filling the creases of their wrinkled lips;
clinging to one another's lies of lost wealth,
ashamed and empty as hollow trees.
By seven I had grown suspicious—we were still here.
Overheard conversations about returning
had grown wistful and less frequent.
I spoke English; my parents didn't.
We didn't live in a two story house
with a maid or a wood panel station wagon
nor vacation camping in Colorado.
None of the girls had hair of gold;
none of my brothers or cousins
were named Greg, Peter, or Marcia;
we were not the Brady Bunch.
None of the black and white characters
on Donna Reed or on Dick Van Dyke Show
were named Guadalupe, Lázaro, or Mercedes.
Patty Duke's family wasn't like us either—
they didn't have pork on Thanksgiving,
they ate turkey with cranberry sauce;
they didn't have yuca, they had yams
like the dittos of Pilgrims I colored in class.
A week before Thanksgiving
I explained to my abuelita
about the Indians and the Mayflower,
how Lincoln set the slaves free;
I explained to my parents about
the purple mountain's majesty,
"one if by land, two if by sea"
the cherry tree, the tea party,
the amber waves of grain,
the "masses yearning to be free"
liberty and justice for all, until
finally they agreed:
this Thanksgiving we would have turkey,
as well as pork.
Abuelita prepared the poor fowl
as if committing an act of treason,
faking her enthusiasm for my sake.
Mamà set a frozen pumpkin pie in the oven
and prepared candied yams following instructions
I translated from the marshmallow bag.
The table was arrayed with gladiolus,
the plattered turkey loomed at the center
on plastic silver from Woolworths.
Everyone sat in green velvet chairs
we had upholstered with clear vinyl,
except Tío Carlos and Toti, seated
in the folding chairs from the Salvation Army.
I uttered a bilingual blessing
and the turkey was passed around
like a game of Russian Roulette.
"DRY," Tío Berto complained, and proceeded
to drown the lean slices with pork fat drippings
and cranberry jelly—"esa mierda roja," he called it.
Faces fell when Mamá presented her ochre pie—
pumpkin was a home remedy for ulcers, not a dessert.
Tía María made three rounds of Cuban coffee
then Abuelo and Pepe cleared the living room furniture,
put on a Celia Cruz LP and the entire family
began to merengue over the linoleum of our apartment,
sweating rum and coffee until they remembered—
it was 1970 and 46 degrees—
After repositioning the furniture,
an appropriate darkness filled the room.
Tío Berto was the last to leave.
From City of a Hundred Fires, by Richard Blanco, © 1998. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Used by permission of the publisher.