Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote the following hymn to be sung at the dedication of the Battle Monument in Concord, Massachusetts, on July 4, 1837. The monument is a remembrance of the Battle of Lexington and Concord which occurred at the Old North Bridge and began the American Revolution.
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 today 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.
Emerson’s grandfather, William Emerson, Sr. was the inspiration for the poem as he witnessed the Battle of the Old North Bridge. The last two lines of the first stanza are the most famous: Here once the embattled farmers stood/And fired the shot heard round the world.
This poem elevated the Battle of the Old North Bridge from a mere side note in history to the spiritual epicenter of the American Revolution.
Emerson lived in Concord and wanted his sleepy little hamlet to gain the honor of having the first battle in the greatest revolution of all time.
The phrase, “the rude bridge that arched the flood” describes the bridge where many soldiers met in battle. The word “redeem” takes on a religious meaning in the poem as it refers to the soldiers who died making it worthwhile to fight this fight. Of course, Americans know that it was worthwhile. The words “votive stone” can be deceiving as folks think of candles, but, in this case, the words refer to the obelisk, the monument itself. Emerson actually uses description and setting to create an image in his readers’ mind. Emerson considered these men heroes because they risked their lives so that their children would be free. The phrase, “the foe long since in silence slept” refers to the enemy soldiers who died in this battle.
With Independence Day coming up soon, I wanted to share with my readers one of my favorite inspirational poems. It is astonishing that so many know the famous line, but they have no idea from where it came.
The featured image belongs to me. The poem is in the public domain.