Concord Hymn by Jack Spicer

What goes through your mind when someone tells a bad joke? Do you laugh along or get deeply offended? In his poem "Concord Hymn" (2008), Jack Spicer (1925‐1965) explores the theme of the workings of the human mind in ten short lines that use several literary devices.

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Table of contents

    "Concord Hymn" by Jack Spicer: Poem Overview

    Before delving into the details, here is an overview of the poem:

    "Concord Hymn" Poem Overview
    Poet: Jack Spicer (1925‐1965)
    Year Published: 2008
    Type of Poem:Free Verse
    Meaning/Main Idea:Feelings of loneliness, sadness, and confusion exist in the subconscious human mind
    Literary Devices:Epic simile, personification, alliteration, enjambment, imagery, sibilance, atmosphere, repetition, irony, symbolism, and allusion
    Theme:The human mind

    "Concord Hymn" by Jack Spicer: Context

    "Concord Hymn" is a short poem by the American poet Jack Spicer (1925‐1965). Jack Spicer was a seminal figure in the San Francisco Renaissance literary movement. "Concord Hymn" is featured in the poet's posthumously published collection of poems, My Vocabulary Did This to Me: Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer (2008).

    The title of this collection comes from Jack Spicer's final words, "My vocabulary did this to me. Your love will let you go on." 1

    The San Francisco Renaissance, also known as the Berkely Renaissance, was a literary movement based on a group of writers living in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1940s. The movement was founded by writers such as Kenneth Gleason, Madeline Gleason, Jack Spicer, Robert Duncan, and Robin Blaser.

    The poets involved in the San Franciso Renaissance had varied literary styles but were united in stressing the importance of formalism and modernist principles. Formalism advocates for analysis based on a text's visible structure, grammar, and syntax rather than extraneous or comparative information from outside sources. Modernism advocates for more experimental, free-flowing, and non-linear styles of writing to express more honest emotion.

    Concord Hymn, San Francisco, StudySmarterFig. 1 ‐ Jack Spicer was a San Francisco Renaissance poet.

    Jack Spicer's poetry can appear quite random and difficult to decipher, so it is essential to know about his personal understanding of poetry to form a basis for analysis of his work. Spicer had a unique view of the poet as a host or transmitter of words received from a spiritual realm. To explain this practice, he once said that "Martians" dictated poetry to him and he wrote it down. He believed that his poetry was not a form of self-expression but the expression of thoughts and sentiments dictated to him. Thus, he referred to his poetry as "dictated poetry."

    Another of Jack Spicer's famous poems is Psychoanalysis: An Elegy (2008). The poet's interest in psychology, human patterns of thought, and the subconscious mind are also evident in "Concord Hymn."

    "Concord Hymn" by Jack Spicer: Full Poem

    The entire poem "Concord Hymn" is made up of an extended simile:

    Your jokeIs like a lakeThat lies there without any thoughtAnd seesDead seasThe birds flyAround thereBewildered by its blue without any thought of waterWithout any thoughtOf water."

    "Concord Hymn" by Jack Spicer: Summary and Main Idea

    The speaker compares a person's "joke" to a still lake. He personifies this lake as something that can see "dead seas" (5). There are birds that fly around, puzzled by the water's blue color. However, they do not think about water.

    The poem "Concord Hymn" can be interpreted in several different ways. However, the main idea is that feelings of loneliness, sadness, and confusion exist in the subconscious human mind. The poem is told as a drifting thought. It is as if the speaker is in conversation with someone who tells a joke. The speaker dissociates from the situation, spiraling into a chain of thoughts representing his subconscious feelings.

    "Concord Hymn" by Jack Spicer: Theme

    The main theme in the poem is the human mind. The poet explores how people rely on thoughts to understand reality. However, he suggests that reality can be perceived without clarity of thought, as the birds still react to the water even though they do not think about what it is. The bodies of water mentioned in the poem symbolize the subconscious mind. Jack Spicer's depiction of the waters creates a sense of sadness and loneliness. The poet suggests that these feelings cloud the subconscious and allow even a joke to be perceived with a sense of melancholy.

    "Concord Hymn" by Jack Spicer: Analysis of Form

    "Concord Hymn" is a 10-line poem written in free verse.

    Free verse is a form of poetry that is not bound to any particular rhyme scheme or meter.

    The poet uses free verse to present thoughts in a way that evokes the speakers drifting, fragmented, semi-conscious thoughts. The short lines present the fragmentation of thoughts that gradually come together to create a bigger picture or idea. These short lines are interspersed with two long lines that jut out, presenting a visual representation of thoughts drifting and the mind straying from the present moment.

    Concord Hymn, Sea Boat Space, StudySmarterFig. 2 ‐ The speaker drifts into thoughts that reveal his subconscious mind and feelings.

    "Concord Hymn" by Jack Spicer: Literary Devices

    Though a concise poem, "Concord Hymn" contains numerous literary devices, including epic simile, personification, alliteration, enjambment, imagery, sibilance, atmosphere, repetition, irony, symbolism, and allusion.

    Epic Simile and Personification

    The entire poem is an epic simile that uses personification to bring human emotions to a natural setting.

    An epic simile, also known as a Homeric simile, is an extended simile that spans several lines. A simile is a figurative comparison using the words 'like' or 'as.'

    Personification is when nonliving things are given human characteristics.

    Spicer uses an epic simile comparing a joke to "a lake / That lies there without any thought / And sees / Dead seas" (2-5). Through this simile, he ties the idea of human humor to a still lake that is still, observant, and melancholy. The poet uses personification by portraying the lake as something that has the capability to think and to see. In doing this, Spicer develops human emotions and characters by describing a natural setting.

    Concord Hymn, Still Lake Reflection, StudySmarterFig. 3 ‐ The poet personifies a still lake to comment on human nature and emotions.

    Assuming that the lake is like the person's sense of humor or way of thinking, this comparison can convey that the person has a dead, dry, or subtle sense of humor. The fact that they notice and see the "dead seas" around them implies they are likely keen and observant but pessimistic.

    Alliteration and Enjambment

    The poet uses alliteration and enjambment to create a sense of flow and stagnancy, which complements the poet's depiction of still water.

    Alliteration is the repetition of initial letter sounds in nearby words.

    Enjambment is the continuation of one line of poetry into the next without pause or punctuation.

    In the following example, the alliteration of the 'L' sound is underlined and the stressed words are bolded:

    "Is like a lake

    That lies there without any thought"


    The repetitive emphasis on the 'L' sounds on alternating syllables lends a rhythmic flow to the reading, giving an illusion of a quickening pace as sounds slide off the tongue. This alliterative section establishes a burst of iambic meter as the syllables alternate in an unstressed/stressed pattern. This rhythm is broken by the phrase "there without any thought," which reads as normal speech (3).

    This switch from flowing language to fragmented speech is fostered by the poet's use of enjambment and choice of line breaks. As the entire poem is a single sentence, the ideas presented in the lines blend together to form a single sentiment. The poet's use of enjambment creates a sense of flow that is slightly stifled by the use of short lines, which slow down speech and hone in on simple images.

    Imagery, Sibilance, and Atmosphere

    The poet uses natural imagery and sibilance to develop a lonely, eerie atmosphere.

    Imagery is the use of descriptive language that appeals to the senses.

    Sibilance is the repetition of sounds that creates a hissing or hushing effect.

    The atmosphere is the mood or feeling created by the writer's choice of language.

    While reading the following example, try to imagine a singular scene and consider what feelings it evokes. The use of sibilance is underlined:

    "And sees

    Dead seas

    The birds fly

    Around there

    Bewildered by its blue"


    There is another example of alliteration in the example above. Can you spot it?

    Jack Spicer develops the imagery of a barren seascape through simple language and details that compile the short lines of poetry. Though the poet is sparse in his detail, the ones he chooses to share evoke a clear picture of an abandoned shore. It is as if the only thing you can see is seagulls flying above the water on an overcast day.

    This idea of a quiet, abandoned, haunting shore is further developed through the use of sibilance. The repetition of the "s" sounds in the words "sees," "seas," and "birds" creates a whispering sound that can be seen to mimic the wind on the shore.

    Concord Hymn, Seagulls Shore, StudySmarterFig. 4 ‐ Birds often fly in a seemingly chaotic manner by the sea.

    The poet develops a lonely, eerie atmosphere through this depiction of the "dead seas" and "bewildered" birds. There is clearly something wrong because the sea is full of life and color, yet Spicer describes it as "dead," and birds who naturally hunt and dive into waters are "bewildered" or confused by it. Spicer uses this imagery to help create an atmosphere that evokes feelings of uncertainty. It is as if someone lonely, depressed, or detached from the world walks along the shore. Blue is a color often associated with sadness, and the idea of deep waters suggests the depths of despair.

    Repetition, Irony, and Symbolism

    The poet uses repetition and symbolism to create irony in his poem.

    Repetition is when a word or phrase is repeated in writing.

    Irony is humor or sarcasm created by the divergence of expectations and reality.

    Symbolism is when a person, place, thing, word, or idea signifies something beyond its literal meaning.

    At the end of the poem, the poet repeats the same phrase twice, but with a different visual structure:

    "Bewildered by its blue without any thought of water

    Without any thought

    Of water."


    The poet's repetition of the phrase "without any thought of water" evokes a sense of drifting or dissociating thought. It is as if the idea of water is an echo in a person's mind (8). The poem repeating "without any thought of water" naturally brings water to the forefront of the reader's mind, creating a sense of irony (8).

    The phrase is also ironic, because, from the point of view of the simile, it is the lake that does not think of water, and a lake is made up of water itself—but then again, lakes do not think at all. The absurdity and mind-fumbling the poet's words project in the reader's mind fosters a dissociation from reality into a vivid, mental fog, which the speaker spirals into upon hearing a joke.

    In Jungian psychology, water—especially large bodies such as lakes, pools, and oceans—symbolizes the unconscious. Spicer suggests that the unconscious mind colors human experience and expression through the symbolism of water.

    Concord Hymn, Water Glass, StudySmarterFig. 5 ‐ Water is something that brings relief, the repetition of the phrase "without any thought of water" implies that the speaker is troubled and has no sense of relief (8).


    The title of the poem is an allusion to Ralph Waldo Emerson's famous poem "Concord Hymn" (1837).

    An allusion is an unexplained reference to something from a different context.

    Emerson's "Concord Hymn" is a rhyming, highly structured four-stanza lyric poem written for the completion of a battle monument for the American Revolutionary War in Concord, Massachusetts. The monument was built by a bridge over a lake where the war began. Ralph Waldo Emerson's poem also focuses on the imagery of water, death, and silence. Jack Spicer's allusion to Emerson's poem enforces the ideas of death and sadness, as the poem is written in memory of the farmers who died in battle.

    Here is the full poem "Concord Hymn" by Ralph Waldo Emerson. What similarities and differences can you identify between Spicer's and Emerson's poems?

    "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."

    "Concord Hymn" by Jack Spicer - Key takeaways

    • "Concord Hymn" is a short poem by the American poet Jack Spicer.
    • "Concord Hymn" is a ten-line poem written in free verse.
    • The poem's main idea is that feelings of loneliness, sadness, and confusion exist in the subconscious human mind.
    • "Concord Hymn" contains numerous literary devices, including epic simile, personification, alliteration, enjambment, imagery, sibilance, atmosphere, repetition, irony, symbolism, and allusion.
    • "Concord Hymn" explores the theme of the human mind.


    1. Steve Heilig, 'Poetry review: 'My Vocabulary Did This to Me,'' sfgate, 2008.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Concord Hymn by Jack Spicer

    What message does the poem "Concord Hymn" by Jack Spicer convey?

    "Concord Hymn" conveys the message that that feelings of loneliness, sadness, and confusion exist in the subconscious human mind.

    What does the title "Concord Hymn" by Jack Spicer mean?

    The title "Concord Hymn" is an allusion to Ralph Waldo Emerson's poem of the same title. Emerson's poem was a hymn written for the completion of a monument for people who died in Concord, Massachusetts at the start of the American Revolutionary War.

    What is the theme of "Concord Hymn" by Jack Spicer?

    The theme of "Concord Hymn" is the human mind.

    When was "Concord Hymn" by Jack Spicer published?

    "Concord Hymn" was published posthumously in My Vocabulary Did This to Me: Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer (2008).  

    What is the poem "Concord Hymn" about?

    The poem "Concord Hymn" is about the human mind and feelings of sadness, loneliness, and longing.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    True or False: The poet's interest in psychoanalysis and psychology likely influenced the poem.

    True or False: The poem is written in free verse.

    The entire poem is an example of which literary device?


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