The Poem

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 557

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.

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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

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 522

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.

Because of his belief in poetic liberty, Emerson himself wrote that he wanted “not tinkling rhyme, but grand Pindaric strokes” and “such rhymes as shall not suggest a restraint, but contrariwise the wildest freedom.” Certainly, the drumbeat rhythm of “Concord Hymn” mimics its martial content; the line “the shot heard round the world” almost seems an echo of the actual fact. On the other hand, the rhythmic beat points to the original occasion of its publication; this poem was intended to provide lyrics for a hymn, both a song of patriotism and a prayer to the Spirit. In addition, the frequent masculine rhyme, both simple and effective, underscores the effectiveness of the historical action being commemorated by dedicating a memorial stone, that is also a “votive stone”; the poet intends the audience to remember the action of the past, the dedication of the present, and the people living in the future, all bound by the “Spirit” invoked in the final stanza.

The simple diction—most words are monosyllabic—also indicates strength, the strength of the farmers who fought and the simple stone that honors them. Action words in the first stanza (“arched,” “unfurled,” “embattled,” “fired,” “shot”) relate to the farmers. Action words in the fourth stanza (“dared to die,” “leave,” “spare,” “raise”) relate to the Spirit. The use of these action words connects the farmers’ actions with the Spirit’s action, thus expressing Emerson’s and the other American Transcendentalists’ organic view of life.

Probably Emerson’s most important contribution to American poetry was his use of the symbol. For him, Nature was itself a symbol of the Spirit. In “Concord Hymn,” Nature, Time, and Spirit are capitalized; these abstract words provide a backdrop for the other actions. The poem uses natural actions (“slept” and “swept,” “sleeps” and “creeps”) to suggest that natural life pervades historic actions and political determination.

Diction used in the poem is filled with natural images (“the dark stream,” “this green bank,” “this soft stream”). Through the use of natural visual images of location, the poet indicates that nature and humankind share experiences when the individuals (“the embattled farmers”) are true to the Spirit that Nature has placed within them.

Emerson’s central symbol is the use of the bridge to represent a man-made object which has disappeared since the battle that took place on it. Likewise the monument (the North Bridge Battle Monument) represents a man-made object that will, like “the rude bridge,” disappear and become part of the sea unless the Spirit bids “Time and Nature [to] gently spare/ The shaft.” Although the “votive stone” represents a stronger man-made symbol, it will avoid the destruction of Nature only if humankind and the Spirit work together.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 199

Allen, Gay Wilson. Waldo Emerson: A Biography. New York: Viking Press, 1981.

Bosco, Ronald A., and Joel Myerson, eds. Emerson in His Own Time: A Biographical Chronicle of His Life, Drawn from Recollections, Interviews, and Memoirs by Family, Friends, and Associates. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2003.

Buell, Lawrence. Emerson. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003.

Goodman, Russell B. American Philosophy and the Romantic Tradition. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Jacobson, David. Emerson’s Pragmatic Vision: The Dance of the Eye. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993.

Lopez, Michael. Emerson and Power: Creative Antagonism in the Nineteenth Century. De Kalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1996.

Myerson, Joel, ed. A Historical Guide to Ralph Waldo Emerson. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Porte, Joel, and Saundra Morris, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Ralph Waldo Emerson. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Richardson, Robert D. Emerson: The Mind on Fire. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

Robinson, David M. Emerson and the Conduct of Life: Pragmatism and Ethical Purpose in the Later Work. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Sacks, Kenneth S. Understanding Emerson: “The American Scholar” and His Struggle for Self-Reliance. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2003.

Yanella, Donald. Ralph Waldo Emerson. Boston: Twayne, 1982.

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