Poets And Poetry

Poetry Analysis Concord Hymn by Ralph Waldo Emerson



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Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882). He was born in Boston, Massachusetts to Ruth and a Unitarian Minister, William Emerson, who died when Emerson was only eight years of age. In 1825 Emerson was ordained Minister in Boston but in 1832 he resigned from his position and went to Europe. Some of his famous essays include 'Nature', 'Beauty', 'The American Scholar' and 'The Young American'.

Emerson's poem the "Concord Hymn" was sung as a hymn in 1837 in Concord, Massachusetts at the completion of the Obelisk, a battle monument which commemorated the contributions of the people of Concord during the Battle of Lexington and Concord (April 19, 1775). This was the first battle of the American Revolution. The poem signifies the struggle or the American war of Independence when the 13 colonies of North American won independence from Britain and became known as the United States. The first stanza states:

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 rude bridge is the Old North Bridge in Concorde and the word 'rude' signifies the shape of the bridge and the way it arches over the water as if to be defiant. As the flag flies in the Aprils 'breeze' the land where they stand is where once the American farmers made their stand and let the whole world know that they were not going to be pushed around. The shot heard round the world was fired at Lexington on April 19, 1775 and this started the war for American Independence. It continues to say:

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

Emerson writes about the British as the foe who in silence 'slept' as do the conquerors, the Americans in this case. Maybe he is referring to the fact that time has passed since the war and it is as if the importance of what happened that day has been forgotten. He is urging the Americans not to forget the embattled farmers who made that difference to everyone because of their heroic actions that day. The words he uses like 'ruined bridge' and 'dark stream' signifies the uncaring attitude that has been since adopted. The third stanza goes on to say:

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.

There is now a contrast to the previous stanza in the green bank; and the stream is 'soft' as he looks to the future of America and urges the Americans to make a vow or set a 'votive stone' never to forget what the 'sons' did to change the lives of the people by their deaths. Their deaths should not have been in vain and by remembering them their 'deed' should be redeemed. In the last stanza he states:

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.

He acknowledges the spirit that made these heroes dare to fight for the cause of freedom and to die in the process, but in so doing, they have also left the gift of freedom to their children. The remembrance flag that is being raised is to honour those who have gone and also to remind those who are now left to carry on never to forget the history or the valour of these brave Americans and what happened that day.

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