"Concord Hymn" (original title was "Hymn: Sung at the Completion of the Concord Monument, April 19, 1836") is a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson written for the 1837 dedication of the Obelisk, a monument in Concord, Massachusetts commemorating the Battle of Concord, the second in a series of battles and skirmishes on April 19, 1775, at the outbreak of the American Revolution.
In October 1834 Emerson went to live with his step-grandfather Ezra Ripley in Concord, at what was later named The Old Manse— less than a hundred paces from the spot where the battle took place. In 1835 he purchased a home on the Cambridge and Concord Turnpike and quickly became one of Concord's leading citizens. That same year he was asked to give a public lecture commemorating the town's 200th anniversary.
The "Concord Hymn" was written at the request of the Battle Monument Committee. At Concord's Independence Day celebration on July 4, 1837, it was first read, then sung as a hymn by a local choir using the then-familiar tune "Old Hundredth".
The poem elevates the battle above a simple event, setting Concord as the spiritual center of the American nation, removes specific details about the battle itself, and exalts a general spirit of revolution and freedom— a spirit Emerson hoped would outlive those who fought in the battle. One source of the hymn's power may be Emerson's personal ties to the subject: his grandfather William Emerson, Sr., witnessed the battle at the North Bridge while living at the Old Manse.
Emerson's poem was widely published in newspaper accounts of the dedication; in contrast there is no record of Congressman Samuel Hoar's speech that day. The poem, originally printed as a broadside for distribution at the monument's dedication, was republished as the last poem in Emerson's first edition of Poems in December 1848 (the book, however, was dated 1847). In that edition the poem appeared with the three line title "HYMN: / SUNG AT THE COMPLETION OF THE CONCORD MONUMENT, / April 19, 1836." Emerson apparently confused the date of the 1837 dedication a decade earlier, July 4th, Independence Day with the anniversary of the battle, April 19th, Patriots' Day and the inscription on the obelisk mentions that it was erected in 1836.
Emerson's line "the shot heard round the world" is a fixture in the lore of the American Revolution, and the opening stanza is inscribed beneath the Daniel Chester French Minute Man statue dedicated (along with a replica of the Old North Bridge) at the 1875 commemoration of the original battle. "Concord Hymn" established Emerson as a poet; he was previously known as a lecturer and essayist. Emerson biographer Robert Richardson notes the phrase has since become the most famous line he ever wrote. Concord's centennial celebration of Emerson's birth in 1903 ended with a singing of the hymn.
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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.
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.
(Note: This version is from The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1904), edited by Edward Waldo Emerson, who noted, "From a copy of this hymn as first printed on slips for distribution among the Concord people at the celebration of the completion of the monument on the battle-ground, I note the differences from the poem here given as finally revised by Mr. Emerson in the Selected Poems.")
Notes and references
- Buell, Lawrence. Emerson. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2003: 56. ISBN 978-0-674-01627-9
- Emerson's son, Edward Waldo Emerson, who edited The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1904), noted: 'In the early editions of the Poems the date is given as 1836. This is a mistake. The Middlesex Yeoman gives the account of this celebration in 1837, and on the original slip in my possession some one sending it to a friend at that time, has written "Sung by the people on battle-ground at the completion of the monument, 4th of July, 1837."'
- Richardson, Robert D. Jr. Emerson: The Mind on Fire. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1995: 182. ISBN 0-520-08808-5
- York, Maurice and Rick Spaulding. Ralph Waldo Emerson: The Infinitude of the Private Man. Wrightwood Press, 2008: 74. ISBN 978-0-9801190-0-8
- Wilson, Susan. Literary Trail of Greater Boston. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000: 127. ISBN 0-618-05013-2
- Richardson, Robert D. Jr. Emerson: The Mind on Fire. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1995: 206. ISBN 0-520-08808-5
- York, Jake Adam. The Architecture of Address: The Monument and Public Speech in American Poetry. Psychology Press, 2005: 24. ISBN 978-0-415-97058-7
- "Old 100th" is commonly used to sing the lyrics that begin "All People That on Earth Do Dwell", and also the Doxology starting "Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow".
- Field, Peter S. Ralph Waldo Emerson: The Making of a Democratic Intellectual. Rowman & Littlefield, 2003: 114. ISBN 978-0-8476-8843-2
- Buell, Lawrence. Emerson. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2003: 57. ISBN 978-0-674-01627-9
- Wayne, Tiffany K. Encyclopedia of Transcendentalism: The Essential Guide to the Lives and Works of Transcendentalist Writers. New York: Facts on File, 2006: 58. ISBN 0-8160-5626-9
- Felton, R. Todd. A Journey into the Transcendentalists' New England. Berkeley, California: Roaring Forties Press, 2006: 58–59. ISBN 0-9766706-4-X
- York, Jake Adam. The Architecture of Address: The Monument and Public Speech in American Poetry. Psychology Press, 2005: 160. ISBN 978-0-415-97058-7
- Wilson, Susan. Literary Trail of Greater Boston. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000: 147. ISBN 0-618-05013-2
- Richardson, Robert D. Jr. Emerson: The Mind on Fire. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1995: 262. ISBN 0-520-08808-5