Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 438
Emerson’s first collection, Poems , indicates an introspective thinker whose idiom was highly intellectualized. Yet a few poems toward the end of the volume, such as “Concord Hymn,” deal more concretely with Emerson’s life in Concord. In fact, Emerson’s personal life and the lives of his family were tied very...
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Emerson’s first collection, Poems, indicates an introspective thinker whose idiom was highly intellectualized. Yet a few poems toward the end of the volume, such as “Concord Hymn,” deal more concretely with Emerson’s life in Concord. In fact, Emerson’s personal life and the lives of his family were tied very closely with the erection of the monument. The famous fight with the British redcoats had taken place near the Manse, the Emerson family home. Emerson’s grandfather, Samuel Ripley, gave the town of Concord a piece of land on the condition that a monument commemorating the battle of April 19, 1775, would be erected there. On the occasion of the dedication of the monument, Ripley recited the original hymn, written by a “citizen of Concord” (Emerson), which was then sung by a choir to the tune of “Old Hundred.” Thirty-eight years later, Emerson was part of the committee that hired Daniel Chester French to sculpt a statue of the “Minute Man”; the first stanza of “Concord Hymn” was engraved on its base. These circumstances connect the poet closely with the historical event, the Concord location, and his audience.
In addition to his personal connection with the circumstances celebrated in “Concord Hymn,” Ralph Waldo Emerson saw himself as a prophet to the American people. In turn, many of the American people saw Emerson as a person who embodied the rugged individualism of the American pioneers and the minutemen who opposed the British Empire. In “Concord Hymn” Emerson expressed the “Self-Reliance” he described (in his famous essay of the same name) as essential to the individual’s personal development. Against all odds, the “embattled farmers” faced death in order to acquire the liberty to express their own beliefs.
Emerson believed the power of this self-reliance arose because each individual is a microcosm of the Oversoul, the “Spirit” the narrator addresses in the fourth stanza. Since Nature and Time reflect the power of this Oversoul, the narrator appeals to the Spirit to “bid” them spare the shaft (the monument).
The conflict between Nature (exemplified in the destructiveness of Time) and the Spirit (expressed in the heroic patriotism of the minutemen) is a central theme of “Concord Hymn.” This conflict somewhat qualifies the nationalistic spirit of the poem by pointing to the transience of human works (the bridge and possibly the monument). In the past, Time swept the ruined bridge “Down the dark stream.” The persona prays to avert the changing of a “soft stream” to a “dark stream.” However, while his exhortation to the Spirit provides a feeling of aesthetic conclusion, its tentative nature does not inspire any great religious confidence.