‘Concord Hymn’ by Ralph Waldo Emerson is a four stanza poem which is separated into sets of four lines, or quatrains. The poet has chosen to unify this piece by utilizing a consistent and repetitive rhyme scheme. The stanzas follow a pattern of, abab cdcd efef ghgh.
Before the first lines of this piece, the poet has added in one line to give the poem the appropriate context,
Sung at the Completion of the Battle Monument, July 4, 1837
This short phrase helps a reader to understand that this piece has not been created solely from the poet’s mind. It was commissioned by the Battle Monument Committee to celebrate Concord’s Independence Day on July 4th, 1837. Upon its unveiling, the poem was first read and then later sung as a hymn.
The poem was composed of elevation in mind. Within the text, the city of Concord, Massachusetts is elevated to a place of extreme importance within American history after the Battle of Concord during the American Revolutionary War.
This piece was first printed as a broadside for the monument’s dedication and then later appeared within Emerson’s collection, Poems, in December of 1848.
Summary of Concord Hymn
The poem begins with the speaker stating that farmers have gathered at a “rude bridge” on the bank of a river. They have come together in preparation for a battle that they know is coming. The next lines of the poem make clear that it is time for a change. The residents of the Colonies have had enough, and are ready to fight, hand-to-hand if necessary, for what they want.
In the last two stanzas of the poem, the speaker describes the dedication of the monument for which the poem was written. He asks God to spare the statue from any of the damages “Time” or “Nature” could inflict upon it as the generations to come to need to understand its importance.
Analysis of Concord Hymn
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.
In the first stanza of ‘Concord Hymn’, the speaker begins by describing the landscape within which the Battle of Concord occurred. The speaker will go through a vague overview of the elements of the battle, focusing more intently on the feelings associated with victory.
The poem’s setting starts out nearby to a “rude bridge.” The use of the word “rude” in the context is to refer to the bridge’s structure. It was not of complicated construction—it was simple.
The bridge “arche[s]” over a river. The only detail given about this particular river is that it was flooded. Next to the river are the main characters of the narrative, the “embattled farmers.” They are standing next to the water’s edge holding a “flag” which has just “unfurled” in “April’s breeze.” The flag stands as a proud representative of the American cause and pursuit of freedom from Great Britain. The “farmers” are not trying to hide their pride or determination.
It is also important to note that the speaker describes the farmers as being ‘embattled.” They are not in good shape, perhaps having lived hard lives and lasted through various other skirmishes. When one considers the fact that the Battle of Concord was one of two initial battles that started the Revolutionary War, it is like these weary farmers have been suffering in their everyday lives. They are ready to stand up and fight for a better future.
The speaker is narrating the scene from a distant point of view. He is not viewing the battle from a first-person perspective but is instead looking back on something which happened many years ago. The speaker’s words inspire a reader to remember all the battles of the Revolutionary War, but particularly this one.
The final line of this section, “And fired the shot heard round the world,” has become a permanent part of the history of the American Revolution. It was during this battle that the first shots were fired and the war began.
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.
In the second stanza, the speaker gives form to the “foe” against whom the “farmers” will be fighting. This is a direct reference to the British who had recently declared Massachusetts to be in a state of rebellion. The “foe” is sleeping at this point. The British are unaware of the power of the Colonies.
The time for change has come, it has destroyed the “ruined bridge.” There is no longer any desire to reconcile or find a way to put off the fighting for longer. The bridge has moved down the “stream” which is itself “creep[ing]” seaward.”
The world, or at least the part of it in the Colonies, is preparing itself for an important change. An old regime will be swept away and a new one will rise.
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.
The third stanza brings the narrative back to what was then the present day. The monument for which this poem was written is being dedicated in front of a crowd of people. It is “On this green bank” that the statue sits, nearby to the “soft stream.” This description provides an interesting contrast to the flooded river which was mentioned in the first lines. It is not only the war that has subsided, so to have the physical elements of the land. The nation is much calmer now.
The “votive stone,” or the monument, is being “set today.” It has been crafted so that the current inhabitants of the land can remember the “deeds” done by those who used to live there. The memory of the Battle of Concord, and all those which made up the Revolutionary War, will last throughout the ages until “our songs 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.
In the final quatrain of ‘Concord Hymn’, the speaker moves on to discuss the more ephemeral elements of the moment. He is interested in portraying the emotions which go along with remembrance and the need to continue to speak about the brave men and women of the past.
He states that it was the “Spirit,” or God, which made “those heroes dare” to stand up, and when they did— “die” for their “children.” It is because of the “embattled farmers” of the first stanza that America has the freedom it does today. In the last two lines, the speaker asks God to ask “Time and Nature” to “spare” the statue which was raised on that particular day. It is a monument to both God and the lost men. He believes it should never come to harm.