Concord Hymn

Concord Hymn

by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sung at the Completion of the Battle Monument, July 4, 1837

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard round the world.

The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set today a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

Spirit, that made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.

____________________________

Emerson’s poem is sixteen lines, broken into four stanzas/quatrains. His rhyme scheme is ABAB CDCD EFEF GHGH.

As we see with the short line before the poem begins, this work was commissioned from Emerson by The Battle Monument Committee to commemorate The Battle of Concord and American independence.

In the first stanza, Emerson descries the events of the battle.

By the rude bridge that arched the flood, 
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled, 
Here once the embattled farmers stood 
And fired the shot heard round the world. 

In the first line, rude should be understood to mean simple. The river below is described as a flood. He gives us the time of year in the second line. In line three though, we meet our poetic protagonists. They are “embattled.” Things are not going well for them. But they stand. The fourth line contains one of the best remembered lines in American poetry. The Battle of Concord is when the first shots were fired in the American Revolutionary War.

In the second stanza, the Speaker emphasizes the passage of time since the famous battle.

The foe long since in silence slept; 
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps; 
And Time the ruined bridge has swept 
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps. 

By 1837, both sides of the Battle of Concord are said to be long dead. I am not certain that this was true, when the poem was delivered, given that the battle itself occurred only 62 years prior. Perhaps an octogenarian who fought in the battle still lived at that point. Nevertheless, Emerson writes that even the bridge where the battle occurred is gone. We can also give the poet some license here inasmuch as the words, associated with the monument, were sure to soon be true in the future even if they were not quite true in the moment.

In the third stanza, Emerson draws attention back to the commemoration of the monument itself.

On this green bank, by this soft stream, 
We set today a votive stone; 
That memory may their deed redeem, 
When, like our sires, our sons are gone. 

Note the changes in adjectives from the first stanza. In the first stanza, we had a rude bridge, a flood, and embattled farmers. Here in the third stanza we have a green bank and a soft stream. The present is better than was the past. The Speaker states we should thus keep the memory of those men for that improvement. The votive stone serves that purpose.

What is a votive stone?

vo•tive vō′tĭv

  • adj.Given or dedicated in fulfillment of a vow or pledge.
  • adj.Expressing or symbolizing a wish, desire, or vow.

In the fourth stanza, the Speaker hopes for the longevity of the monument.

Spirit, that made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.

Spirit I think can be understood to be a reference to God or the divine. Here, the Speaker requests that the same Spirit, who emboldened those embattled farmers to dare, and to die, would preserve the monument (i.e. the shaft) for as long as possible.

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