Concord Hymn Analysis
by Ralph Waldo Emerson

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The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

This poem was first distributed as a leaflet on the occasion of the dedication of a monument (July 4, 1837) commemorating the battle of Lexington and Concord. However, since the cornerstone of the monument was laid late in 1836 and the monument carries the date 1836, some printed versions of the poem give that date. The poem was not printed again until it was included in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Poems (1847). The poem’s original title was replaced in subsequent years by the now commonly accepted title “Concord Hymn.” This short poem is composed of four stanzas of quatrains written in iambic tetrameter rhythm. The alternating lines rhyme in a pattern of abab.

In the first stanza Emerson briefly reenacts the early American Revolution battle that took place at Concord bridge on April 19, 1775. The first line describes the location as being by an arched, rustic (“rude”) bridge crossing a stream. Patriotic dedication is expressed in the subsequent line, “Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled.” The release of the flag to the wind symbolizes the fact that there is no going back to the conditions preceding this battle. The third line emphasizes the location by repeating the word “Here.” The phrase “the embattled farmers” reminds the reader that the Americans were soldier-farmers fighting a professional British army. The most famous line of the poem, “And fired the shot heard round the world,” expresses another anomaly: These farmers changed not only their own lives but also the lives of people living in far distant countries. The United States’ successful fight for independence from England inspired the oppressed people of other nations also to protest tyrannical conditions.

As the first stanza emphasizes the location of the battle, the second stanza emphasizes time—the period that has elapsed between the battle and the monument being erected to commemorate the battle. In the first line the identification of the enemy as “The foe” is softened by the concept that “the foe” has now been asleep (or perhaps dead) for many years. The second line semantically balances the “foe” (the English soldier) of the first line with his opponent, “the conqueror” (the American farmer), and then unites them in the same action of sleeping in silence. The third line explicitly identifies “Time,” the great equalizer that has “swept” the “ruined bridge” away from that spot and into the stream that moves slowly (“creeps”) toward the sea. Through time, nature removes political differences: “Foe” and “conqueror” are united in time’s dissolution.

The third stanza describes the immediate location (“On this green bank, by this soft stream”), the immediate action of dedicating a monument (“We set to-day a votive stone”), and the purpose of the monument (“That memory may their deed redeem”). The last line projects the poem into the future, at the same time alluding to the action of the past. Like “the sires” of the group gathered at the dedication, their “sons” will certainly recall the deed of the “embattled farmers.”

The fourth and last stanza expresses an address to a “Spirit.” This apostrophe or prayer unites the heroes who “dare/ To die” with their children who are “free” and requests that the Spirit “Bid Time and Nature” spare “The shaft” (the monument raised to the dead “embattled farmers”). The poet is praying that the monument will not meet the fate of the ruined bridge.

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Emerson believed that all of life consists of organic wholeness, and he wanted the form of his poetry—its rhyme, rhythm, symbolism, diction—to embody this view. His philosophic purpose did not always produce felicitous verse; indeed, critics of his first volume (Poems, 1847), which contained “Concord Hymn,” highly criticized his use of poetic elements, finding philosophy and poetry at odds. However, they applauded “Concord Hymn” as an exception to this criticism.


(The entire section is 1,278 words.)