The Concord Hymn

July 4, 1997 at 12:00 AM EDT

JIM LEHRER: On this July 4th a remembrance of the American past through poetry. We asked Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky to read something appropriate. He did so at a bridge in Concord, Massachusetts.

ROBERT PINSKY, Poet Laureate: Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote “The Concord Hymn” to be sung at this spot on July 4, 1837, at the dedication of the Stone Obelisk.

The poem acknowledges a tremendous of time that had already passed then between when Emerson wrote it and when farmers died painful, messy deaths here for the idea of the United States of America.

I think it’s a good poem, partly because it does acknowledge that long space of time, which is even longer now, between them and us. “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 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 deeds 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.

JIM LEHRER: We plan to have Mr. Pinsky read appropriate poetry for other appropriate events on a regular basis here on the NewsHour.