Palin and Poet Longfellow: Kindred Spirits

Tuesday, 07 Jun 2011 11:58 AM

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Palin’s recent flub describing Paul Revere’s famous ride brought her under tremendous criticism. Although historians are skeptical of Palin’s interpretation, it’s important to note she isn’t the first to make this historical revision. In fact, she is in good company with the likes of epic poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, reports The Palm Beach Post.

Longfellow was given to dramatic flair — his account of Paul Revere’s Ride is no exception. Written in 1861, nearly four decades after Revere’s death, Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride” is replete with inaccuracy.

Maybe it is testament to Longfellow’s writing skill that his myth has been popularly accepted as truth, but here are some common misconceptions inspired by Longfellow’s poem:

• Paul Revere didn't yell, "The British are coming!" He yelled, "The regulars are coming out!" Longfellow probably made the right call there because his version certainly sounds better.
• Revere was not the only rider that night of April 18, 1775. A second messenger was sent out in case the Redcoats captured Revere.
• The famous two lanterns in the church steeple ("One if by land, and two if by sea...") was not a warning to Revere of the British army's route, as the poem says, but Revere's warning to nearby people to let them know the British were coming out.
• The poem has Revere arriving in Concord, Mass. on his night ride, but he only got to Lexington, where he warned Hancock and Adams, and was then arrested. At that point, after his capture, he may have told British soldiers of his exploits, which may be where Palin got the idea that he was warning the British, too.

Despite the historical faux pas, Longfellow inspired invaluable reverence for our country’s founding. Similarly, Palin’s words reflect a deep sense of patriotism that transcends her disputed accuracy.

Although neither Palin nor Longfellow were cut out to be journalists, one good story deserves another. If nothing else, Palin’s own account of Paul Revere’s ride has made Palin and Longfellow, so to speak, strange bedfellows.

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