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.
“Concord Hymn” was written in 1837 for the dedication of a battle monument in Concord, Massachusetts. The monument is located at the site of the North Bridge in Concord where, in 1775, the Minutemen met the advancing British troops on their way from a previous run-in with colonists in nearby Lexington. The dedication ceremony, which took place on July 4, 1837, included a singing of Emerson’s poem.
The poem is sixteen lines of iambic tetrameter, with an ABAB rhyme scheme. It was sung to the tune of the traditional hymn, “Old Hundredth,” and is one of Emerson’s earliest published poems. Also known as the “Concord Ode,” the poem recalls the sacrifice made by the Minutemen—the common men that took up arms in the hopes of stopping the advancing British troops—and underscores the importance of memorializing their losses.
The location of the dedication ceremony becomes the setting for the poem, as Emerson’s opening line describes “the rude bridge that arched the flood.” Emerson continues to transport readers back to the events that unfolded in 1775 at that bridge, speaking both of the Minutemen—“Here once the embattled farmers stood”—and of “the shot heard round the world.” The first stanza of the poem is the only stanza in past tense, providing the historical background to the monument’s significance.
The motif of a river exists throughout this poem, beginning on the first line when the imagistic “flood” first appears. Emerson compares the battle to nature, as the battle took many lives, the bridge was assaulted by a flood. Emerson continues this comparison as the wind waved the colonial flag, which was illegal to display at the time, and the “embattled farmers” began their rebellious fight. Similarly, Emerson mentions “April’s breeze,” at the start of spring, which is the season of rebirth and growth, as these soldiers fight for new lives, and they go through the dawning of this new age of freedom. This poem of Emerson’s is extremely well known, partly because he coined the moniker, “the shot heard round the world,” which is still used to describe events like the start of the Revolutionary War, and the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which triggered World War I.
In the second stanza, Emerson’s nature imagery again parallels the battle; as soldiers have died, the bridge has also been ruined, “Swept / Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.” The peacefulness of this imagery follows Emerson’s theme that the passage of time and the journey from life to death, while also furthering the river motif. As well, Emerson reflects on the impartiality of death, as both “foe” and “conqueror” sleep. Emerson’s narrative, now in the present tense, implements imagery of nature to the bridge and stream, and applies alliteration and repetition, writing “silence slept” and “silent sleeps.”
The third stanza reflects further on remembering those who are worthy of remembrance. The serene, calm imagery associated with “this green bank, by this soft stream” is indicative that the battling and brutality have passed, and it is now time for remembrance and appreciation. Emerson links the actions of humans to the progression of nature, comparing the history of the Battle of Concord and the behavior of the nature surrounding them. This idea is enforced through the personification of Nature and Time in the fourth stanza.
“Concord Hymn” commemorates the soldiers who sacrificed their lives in the Battle of Concord. Emerson recognizes the sacrifice of the colonists who did lose their lives in the initial skirmishes of the war. He reminds not only those who listened at the original dedication ceremony but also readers today of the importance of remembering their loss and keeping it at the center of the memorial that was established: “We set today a votive stone; / That memory may their deed redeem.”
Credits Composed by Mariah Palmer and Nicholas Yialiades , Fall 2018. Readings by Mariah Palmer and Nicholas Yialiades.