American Elephants


The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere by The Elephant's Child

On the actual 18th of April, the country was consumed with all things Mueller report, and I forgot to post this. Good for kids, who like the galloping rhythm of the poem, a lesson in history, and encourge them to memorize part or all of it. Memorizing is a skill that would serve them well through school and probably their future occupations as well.

Paul Revere’s Ride posted annually by The Elephant’s Child


[A little Henry Wadsworth Longfellow for the eighteenth of April]
Today is the 244th anniversary of the “Shot heard Round the World”

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 tonight,
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, a 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,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed to 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, 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 gazed at 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 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 for evermore!
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 awaken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the  midnight message of Paul Revere.

(The illustration is from a lovely edition of the poem illustrated by Ted Rand for children or any Longfellow lovers. Copies still available from Amazon at very reasonable  prices)



An Odd Exploration of American History and Folkways by The Elephant's Child

I woke up this morning with a nonsense song my father used to sing to me when I was very little, in my head, and tried to write it down. Then I decided to try to search to see if it was a popular song of his day, or a children’s song from his childhood., or indeed, if anything at all would result from a search, after all, this is the computer age!

Here’s what I wrote down, deeply imprinted in my head after all these years, and don’t ask how many.

Shoo, shoo, shoo went the Roo,
Shoo went the Rocklechockle,
Chittle went the Choo,
Crosskey a Vanjo, Faddle Daddle Day,
Cajittle went the Banyan Slando.

We went up on yonder hill,
There we sat and cried our fill.
Cried enough tears to fill a water bill,
Cajittle went the Banyan Slando.

I found first:“Mia’s Bicultural Bedtime:

She comented: “I learned this song from my own mother. One of the few early memories I have is of her singing this to me at night time.”
The “Johnny’s gone for a soldier” line suggests the Civil War, but…

John Cowan wrote on Yahoo in 2003:
I got curious about a song half-remembered from my childhood and spent a few hours tracking it down. It makes a marvelous example of the folk process at work, as well as what happens to Irish when the Americans (even those of Irish or Scots-Irish descent) get hold of it.
The original song is “Shule Aroon”, and the first verse and chorus look like this (old orthography):

I would I were on yonder hill
‘Tis there I’d sit and cry my fill,
And every tear would turn a mill,
Is go dtëidh, a mhuirmin,slán!

Slubhail, slubhail, slubhail, a rúin!
Slubhail go socair, agus slubhll go cluin,
Slubhail go dti an dorus agus euligh liom,
ls go dtéidh tú, a mhuimin, slán!

On arrival in the colonies, the song split into two versions. The better- known one shed its Irish altogether, aquired a Revolutionary War motif and became:

Here I sit on Buttermilk Hill,
Who should blame me cry my fill?
And every tear would work a mill,
Johnny has gone for a soldier.

Buttermilk Hill is in Westchester Couty, New York; supposedly dairy
cattle were hidden there during the Revolution to protect them from
raiders from either side. The tune changed too, but all versions can be
sung to all tunes, so I ignore this.

But in the southern U.S., where there were lots of Irish and Scots-Irish
people, the Irish was retained in singing, but its meaning was forgotten and its phonetics garbled. This version was collected in Arkansas in 1958, when I was busily being born.

Well I wish I was on yonders hill
There I’d set and cry my fill
Every drop would turn a mill
Ish come bibble ahly-boo-so-real.

Shule-shule-shule–roo
Shule-like-sharus-spilly-bolly-qule
First time I saw spilly-bolly-eel
Ish come bibble in the boo-shy-laurie.

Not too much later, I learned the “Buttermilk Hill” version but with the following chorus:

Shool, shool, shool a rool,
Shool a rack-a-shack, shool-a-barbecue,
When I saw my Sally-baba-yeel,
Come bibble in the boo-shy laurie.

And so over the past 200+ years, Irish has turned slowly to complete
gibberish…Ghu only knows what will happen to the song if Americans
keep singing it for the next 200 years.

My version (complete gibberish) but recognizable with the crying-on-a- hill part, came from the South Carolina Scots-Irish who arrived shortly before the Revolution, and my father’s father was descended from that group. My father came from Pennsylvania. The song was unknown to my mother whose people were very early New England.

I don’t know if you find the folkways interesting, but perhaps there’s someone out there with another version. Of course early Americana is beyond out-of-fashion currently, evil, white people invaded a peaceful paradise, displaced and destroyed the gentle indigenous peoples, and if we just tear down all remnants of the founding….

It would probably help a lot more if our schools did a decent job of teaching American history. The current crop of aspiring candidates for the presidency, and the new young representatives in Congress make it clear that there is something deeply wanting in the history department.




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