Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The First Shots Are Fired

Today is the 150th anniversary of the shots fired on Fort Sumter that marked the beginning of the Civil War. I'm sure there are many fine tributes to the day all over the internet.

My contribution will be to point you toward Jill Lepore's essay in the American Scholar: "How Longfellow Woke the Dead."

Lepore argues that we should read Longfellow's famous poem, "Paul Revere' Ride" in its original context — not as a piece of singsong schoolroom verse, but as a call to arms at the beginning of the Civil War:
"Paul Revere’s Ride” is a poem about waking the dead. The dead are Northerners, roused to war. But the dead are also the enslaved, entombed in slavery—another common conceit: Frederick Douglass once wrote about his escape as “a resurrection from the dark and pestiferous tomb of slavery.” Who shall wake? Neglecting Longfellow, taking the Sumner out of Longfellow, juvenilizing Longfellow, has had its costs. Decades of schoolroom recitation have not only occluded the poem’s meaning but have also made it exceptionally serviceable as a piece of political propaganda, not least because political propaganda and juvenilia have rather a lot in common.
Take a look — it's a great read.

1 comment:

Linda Hughes Hiser said...

Thanks for this tip...I am going to find it and give it a good look.