Sunday, April 18, 2010

"Paul Revere's Ride" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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 the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry-chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the somber 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, 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 somber 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 flying 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 after 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 farm-yard 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-beat of that steed,
And the midnight-message of Paul Revere.
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"I Left My Heart in San Francisco" by Tony Bennett (with Judy Garland)

It kind of speaks for itself, doesn't it? Cooler than cool Tony Bennett sings his classic theme song I Left My Heart in San Francisco in a stripped down arrangement, only to be joined for a bit of melody by the inimitable Judy Garland.

I gotta say, it kinda makes me quake...

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Pop History Moment: San Francisco Devastated By Earthquake, Fire

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On April 17th, 1906, San Francisco was the jewel of the Pacific; early photographs show a range of uncommonly beautiful buildings in both commercial and residential districts...

An earthquake as powerful as the one that struck the city on this day in 1906 was bad enough - 7.8 on the Richter scale, with its epicentre at Mussel Rock - but it's really fire that's the scourge of cities, and it certainly scourged this one. Broken gas mains caused some of the fires; still others were set by citizens for insurance purposes. Either way, equally ruptured water mains hampered firefighters, and the inferno raged for four days and four nights. Only a few pre-1906 structures survived, including the Ferry Building, which was doused with water by nearby fire boats.

Afterwards, people lived in tent cities for two years or more as rubble was carted away and entire neighbourhoods rose from the ashes. Beginning in 1915 - by which time the reconstruction was largely complete - survivors began meeting at Lotta's Fountain on the anniversary of the disaster in commemoration. The same year's Panama-Pacific Exposition - originally intended to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal - became the impetus to rebuild the city.

It's a curious thing how a city's buildings can be reduced to ruins but its civic pride can remain undamaged, or indeed often even increase. Again and again throughout history such things have happened, and yet places as diverse as Rome, London, and New Orleans persist. For all that cities seem to conspire to crush our souls, they also manage to inspire us in equal or greater measure.

The events of this day inspired the 1936 film San Francisco, but oddly enough the story hasn't yet had a retelling yet during the age of CGI - despite being the subject of numerous books and documentaries.
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POPnews - April 18th

[Not only did the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere alert American patriots to an impending British invasion at the outset of the American Revolution, it's since found itself a comfortable niche in pop culture; this 1931 painting by Grant Wood (the painter most famous for American Gothic) is a stylized view of Revere's brave act, but Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem Paul Revere's Ride went even further, taking utter liberties with the historical record in the name of art. Plus the entire undertaking is responsible for the phrase 'one if by land, two if by sea' as well, which I always thought was a little too poetic just to be part of the name of a Sandra Bullock-Denis Leary movie, no matter how charming a movie it is.]

1025 - Bolesław Chrobry became the first King of Poland when he was crowned in Gniezno.

1161 - Theobald of Bec - who was appointed by Archbishop of Canterbury by England's King Stephen in 1138 - died; he was succeeded by the altogether more famous Thomas Becket.

1506 - The cornerstone of the current St. Peter's Basilica was laid by Pope Julius II; much of what is now known as Old St. Peter's Basilica - built by Emperor Constantine I between 326 and 333 CE - was taken down or swallowed up by the new building, which was designed by Donato Bramante.

1518 - Bona Sforza - second wife of Sigismund I - was crowned as queen consort of Poland.

1738 - Madrid's Real Academia de la Historia (or Royal Academy of History) was founded by King Felipe V to study history 'ancient and modern, political, civil, ecclesiastical, military, scientific, of letters and arts, that is to say, the different branches of life, of civilization, and of the culture of the Spanish people'; the Academy currently has 370 members.

1775 - Paul Revere and William Dawes warned residents of the countryside around Boston of British troop movements on the evening before the Battles of Lexington and Concord, which would mark the outbreak of the American Revolution. Revere was given the shorter way - via Somerville, Medford, and Arlington - whereas Dawes took a more circuitous route through Boston Neck upon the orders of Dr Joseph Warren to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams that they were in danger of arrest.

1797 - At the Battle of Neuwied forces of the First French Republic under Lazare Hoche scored a victory against the Holy Roman Empire and the Hapsburg Austrian forces of General Wermecek.

1831 - The University of Alabama was founded, featuring a strong curriculum of book-larnin', cipherin', and such.

1848 - An American victory by General Winfield Scott against Antonio López de Santa Anna at the Battle of Cerro Gordo opened the way for the US invasion of Mexico during the Mexican-American War; in addition to inflicting heavy casualties against their opponents (including the death of General Ciriaco Vasquez and the capture of his fellow generals Luis Pinzon, Jose M. Jarrero, R. Diaz de La Vega, Manuel Norriega, and Jose Obando) Scott's men forced Santa Anna to flee on horseback without the benefit of his prosthetic leg, which is still on display at the Illinois National Guard in Springfield to this day.

1880 - An F4 tornado struck Marshfield, Missouri, killing 99 people and injuring 100; while there's nothing so unusual about that, according to Ripley's Believe It or Not! one of the survivors was a child in a cradle, found up a tree! That would make this particular tornado one of the most remembered in history, as it has been considered the genesis of the nursery rhyme Rock A Bye Baby, even if it turns out the story is utter bunk; the verse is actually much older, and originated - as these things often do - as an English satire called Lilliburlero.

1909 - Joan of Arc was beatified in Rome by Pope St. Pius X.

1915 - French pilot Roland Garros was shot down and glided (glid?) to a landing behind German lines during World War I; having failed to destroy his plane, its interrupter gear was eventually seized, costing the Allies their tactical edge. The resulting Fokker Scourge brought a new level of carnage to aerial combat.

1923 - Yankee Stadium - also known as The House that Ruth Built - opened; it has since been torn down.

1942 - The Doolittle Raid - the first attack on the Japanese mainland by American forces - was made in retaliation for Japan's earlier attack on Pearl Harbor; although the raid - planned by Lieutenant-Colonel James 'Jimmy' Doolittle - did prove that bombers could successfully be launched from aircraft carriers, the raid was otherwise tactically indecisive.

1949 - The Republic of Ireland Act came into force.

1980 - The Republic of Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) came into being, with Canaan Banana as the country's first President.

1983 - A suicide bomber destroyed the US embassy in Beirut, killing 63 people; responsibility was claimed by the Islamic Jihad Organization.

1988 - The US launched Operation Praying Mantis against Iran in the largest naval battle since World War II.

2009 - The Welsh-born actress Stephanie Parker - who played Stacey Weaver on BBC Wales' television series, Belonging - was found hanged near Pontypridd, in an apparent suicide; she was 22.
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