Monday, April 21, 2008

"The Concord Hymn" by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Although living in Boston has some downsides, particularly for a person who does not like sports, one of the great benefits is the variety of events this place has to offer. Today is Patriots' Day, a holiday exclusive to Massachusetts and Maine. It apparently has to do with "the shot heard round the world" and the start of the American Revolution. If you've never heard of it, don't feel bad - I had no idea it existed until I moved to Boston.

In honor of Patriots' Day, I thought it might be nice to examine Emerson's "Concord Hymn," a poem he wrote for the dedication of the monument that commemorates the start of the American Revolution. Although Emerson is known for Transcendentalist philosophy and essays such as "Self-Reliance," he was also quite the poet.

"Concord Hymn" by Ralph Waldo Emerson

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag in April's breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.

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.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set to-day a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons 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 addition to writing poetry, Emerson made significant contributions to defining American poetry in general. Rather than focusing on the heroic deeds of the past and mimicking European poetry styles, Emerson wanted American poetry to write about the ordinary and use new, inventive styles. Unsurprisingly, he was also one of the first champions of Walt Whitman.