For our week devoted to “duty,” we thought it fitting to revisit the second post we sent out at the launch of Word & Song: Emerson’s memorial to the American farmers of his town, who did their duty as they understood it, because they saw that their countrymen and their offspring and all Americans to come would benefit from whatever sacrifices they made — and those sacrifices were great — on the battlefield which had come to their own back yard. Few of our readers saw that post because, well, we HAD FEW readers on that first week.
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Want to know how poetry used to be a part of American popular culture? On October 3, 1951, at the Polo Grounds in New York, the Giants were playing the Dodgers for the National League pennant. They were down 4-1 going into the ninth inning. After a couple of outs and three hits, the score was 4-2, with men on second and third. That was when the Dodger manager decided to take his ace, Don Newcombe, out of the game, and send in Ralph Branca in relief, to face slugger Bobby Thomson. The first pitch was a strike. The next pitch? Thomson sent it flying into the left field bleachers, and the Giants were on their way to the World Series. Sportswriters started calling it “The Shot Heard Round the World,” and so it is known to this day.
They got the phrase from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Concord Hymn.” Emerson meant his poem to be sung to the melody OLD HUNDREDTH, which you may know as “Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow.” The date was July 4, 1837, and the place was Concord, Massachusetts. A monument had been erected to the memory of the Battle of Concord, one of the first of the Revolutionary War. The poem was read, and then sung by a choir. And for more than a hundred years after that, American school children learned this poem and often got it by heart.
The poem celebrates a grand irony about this early battle of the War of Independence. It really was a world-changing moment, that Battle of Concord, and yet how did it come about? No great army, no Constantine on the Milvian Bridge, deciding the fate of the Roman Empire. It took place at a “rude bridge,” and by the time Emerson wrote his poem, that bridge wasn’t even there anymore. The fighters were simple men who wanted their freedom: “the embattled farmers.” The monument marked where they stood – brave, stalwart, ready to die – and “fired the shot heard round the world.” The honor Emerson pays to his sires is for their courage and duty, which they passed on to their sons and their sons’ sons and to all Americans to cherish and to keep whole and to remember by sounding the liberty won in that war. Gratitude and memory go hand in hand. Let us remember what we have been given, and return thanks for it.
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 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.
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