Thursday, 22 January 2009

Birth of a Nation

While all eyes are on the United States, Ralph Waldo Emerson's poem memorialising the start of the American Revolutionary War seems a fitting subject. The 'rude bridge' mentioned in the opening line is the North Bridge in Concord, where in 1775 a group of local patriots resisted a much larger company of British army regulars. Emerson's brother reports that the poem was to be sung to the tune of the 'Old Hundred'.

Concord Hymn
Sung at the Completion of the Battle Monument, July 4, 1837

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 dead 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.

Robert Frost loved this poem (as he loved so much of Emerson's writing). His patriotic poem 'The Gift Outright', which he read at Kennedy's Inauguration, may well be remembering Emerson's 'Concord Hymn' as it records the transition of Americans from 'colonials' to liberation and independence: 'The deed of gift was many deeds of war'.

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