April 19, 2010

The shot heard round the world

The morning after Paul Revere's famous ride marked the first real battle of the American Revolution. April 19, 1775 was later commemorated by several Massachusetts poets who looked back at the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

 "Concord Hymn" (1836) by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

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.

Some of Emerson's words were engraved at the base of a statue by Daniel Chester French at the Old North Bridge in Concord. Across the river is a small memorial to the British soldiers who were killed which quotes from Emerson's friend James Russell Lowell:

"Lines [Suggested by the Graves of Two English Soldiers at Concord Battle Ground]" (1845)

The same good blood that now refills
The dotard Orient's shrunken veins,
The same whose vigor westward thrills,
Bursting Nevada's silver chains,
Poured here upon the April grass,
Freckled with red the herbage new;
On reeled the battle's trampling mass,
Back to the ash the bluebird flew.

Poured here in vain; — that sturdy blood
Was meant to make the earth more green,
But in a higher, gentler mood
Than broke this April noon serene;
Two graves are here: to mark the place,
At head and foot, an unhewn stone,
O'er which the herald lichens trace
The blazon of Oblivion.

These men were brave enough, and true,
To the hired soldier's bull-dog creed;
What brought them here they never knew,
They fought as suits the English breed:
They came three thousand miles, and died,
To keep the Past upon its throne;
Unheard, beyond the ocean tide,
Their English mother made her moan.

The turf that covers them no thrill
Sends up to fire the heart and brain;
No stronger purpose nerves the will,
No hope renews its youth again:
From farm to farm the Concord glides,
And trails my fancy with its flow;
O'erheard the balanced hen-hawk slides,
Twinned in the river's heaven below.

But go, whose Bay State bosom stirs,
Proud of thy birth and neighbor's right,
Where sleep the heroic villagers
Borne red and stiff from Concord flight;
Thought Reuben, snatching down his gun,
Or Seth, as ebbed the life away,
What earthquake rifts would shoot and run
World-wide from that short April fray?

What then? With heart and hand they wrought,
According to their village light:
'T was for the Future that they fought,
Their rustic faith in what was right.
Upon earth's tragic stage they burst
Unsummoned, in the humble sock;
Theirs the fifth act; the curtain first
Rose long ago on Charles's block.

Their graves have voices; if they threw
Dice charged with fates beyond their ken,
Yet to their instincts they were true,
And had the genius to be men.
Fine privilege of Freedom's host,
Of humblest soldiers for the Right! —
Age after age ye hold your post,
Your graves send courage forth, and might.


  1. Thanks, Rob,

    Today's entry brought back my wonderful week-long stay in Concord last summer. It and the Poe "funeral" in Baltimore in October were the literary highlights of my year. As your blog is, so far, in 2010.

  2. Your comment made me smile! I'm glad people out there are enjoying these little musings.

    I was unable to make the big Poe funeral in Baltimore - I was so disappointed that my boss made me a coffin-shaped Poe cake to make up for it.

  3. Rob,

    Your "little musings" comment is way too modest, as you should recognize from some of the recent postings from other fans of this blog: we are impressed and awed by what you are doing, and salute you for it. Many thanks!

    Sorry that you missed the Poe funeral celebration, which was a majestic event. Baltimore did a noble job of it, and gave Poe his full due.