The Rude Bridge Reconsidered

Ralph Waldo Emerson composed the following lines as part of his poem “Concord Hymn”, sung at the completion of the Battle Monument in Concord, April 19, 1836:

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.

Near the Battle Monument there is another memorial titled “Graves of British Soldiers”, on which are engraved these lines composed by James Russell Lowell:1

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.

We Americans are justly proud of those embattled farmers who began the struggle that won the United States as a new nation. But it is the Lowell poem that caught the attention of H.D.S. Greenway in a column in the Boston Globe on April 21, 2009. Here are excerpts from that column:

“For close to a century the British tried to control events between the Indus and the Oxus rivers, just as they had tried to do in America. They would have said they were dying for king and country on the bridge near Concord, or to protect India against Russian expansion on the frontier.

“The Russians, in their turn in the 1980s, thought they were dying to protect Russia, or to save Afghanistan for Communism….

“Today, British and Americans are dying together far from home. As the British found at Lexington and Concord, the enemy doesn’t fight in conventional ways, but from behind walls and from concealment. Asymmetrical warfare is what they call it now. There will be no American graves in Afghanistan for future generations to contemplate. The dead are brought home for burial.

“…As soldiers will, they died bravely for duty’s sake so far from home to keep the past upon the throne.”

2009

1from “Lines, Suggested by the Graves of Two English Soldiers in Concord Battle-Ground”

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