And did those feet in ancient time
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"And did those feet in ancient time" is a short poem by William Blake from the preface to his epic Milton: a Poem (1804). Today it is best known as the hymn "Jerusalem", with music written by C. Hubert H. Parry in 1916.
The text is as follows:
- And did those feet in ancient time
- walk upon England’s mountains green?
- And was the holy Lamb of God
- on England’s pleasant pastures seen?
- And did the countenance divine
- shine forth upon our clouded hills?
- And was Jerusalem builded here
- among these dark Satanic Mills?
- Bring me my bow of burning gold!
- Bring me my arrows of desire!
- Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
- Bring me my chariot of fire!
- I will not cease from mental fight,
- nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
- till we have built Jerusalem
- In England’s green and pleasant Land.
The text of the poem was inspired by an apocryphal story that Jesus, while still a young man, accompanied by Joseph of Arimathea, came to the English town of Glastonbury. This is linked with an idea from the Book of Revelation that describes a Second Coming in which Jesus establishes a new Jerusalem. Consequently the Christian Church in general, and the English Church in particular, used Jerusalem as a metaphor for heaven. It is a place where love is universal and all is well in contrast to the 'dark satanic mills'. (The hymn 'Jerusalem the Golden with milk and honey blessed... I know not oh I know not what joys await me there....' uses Jerusalem for the same metaphor).
The term "dark satanic mills", which entered the English language from this poem, is most often interpreted as referring to the early industrial revolution and its destruction of nature. An alternative theory claims that Blake is referring to Stonehenge, an illustration of which is featured in the work, Milton. However, Blake did not see ancient Britain as satanic but rather saw the Druids and their supposed temple, Stonehenge, as precursors of Christianity. Satan's "mills" are referred to repeatedly in the main poem, and are first described in words which suggest neither industrialism nor ancient megaliths, but rather something more abstract: "the starry Mills of Satan/ Are built beneath the earth and waters of the Mundane Shell...To Mortals thy Mills seem everything, and the Harrow of Shaddai / A scheme of human conduct invisible and incomprehensible".
The line from the poem, "Bring me my Chariot of Fire!" draws on the story of 2 Kings 2:11, where the Old Testament prophet Elijah is taken directly to heaven: "And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven." Or it could refer to 2 Kings 6:17 , where the prophet Elisha prays that the eyes of his servant might be opened to the "horses and chariots of fire" surrounding them to protect them from an enemy army.
Several of Blake's poems and paintings express a notion of universal humanity: "As all men are alike (tho' infinitely various)". He retained an active interest in social and political events for all his life, but was often forced to resort to cloaking social idealism and political statements in Protestant mystical allegory. Even though the poem was written during the Napoleonic Wars, Blake was an outspoken supporter of the French Revolution, whose successor Napoleon claimed to be. The poem expressed his desire for radical change without overt sedition. The poem is followed in the preface by a quotation from Numbers ch. 11, v. 29: "Would to God that all the Lord's people were prophets." This is thought to be a direct response to the views of John Milton which were republican, libertarian and radically Puritan and which supported regicide and social levelling.
Some of Blake's biographers have concluded that he believed in the legend, but he may not have intended such a literal interpretation because he asks questions rather than making statements. Instead it can be thought as saying that there may, or may not, have been a divine visit when there was briefly heaven in England, but that was then; now we should accept the challenge to create such a country once more.
The poem, which was little known during the century which followed its writing, was included in a patriotic anthology of verse published in 1916, a time when morale had begun to decline due to the high number of casualties in the First World War and the perception that there was no end in sight.
Under these circumstances, it seemed to many to define what Britain was fighting for. Therefore, Robert Bridges, the Poet Laureate asked Parry to put it to music at a Fight for Right campaign meeting in London's Queen's Hall. The aims of this organisation were "to brace the spirit of the nation that the people of Great Britain, knowing that they are fighting for the best interests of humanity, may refuse any temptation, however insidious, to conclude a premature peace, and may accept with cheerfulness all the sacrifices necessary to bring the war to a satisfactory conclusion". Bridges asked Parry to supply the verse with "suitable, simple music that an audience could take up and join in". Originally Parry intended the first verse to be sung by a solo female voice, but this is rare nowadays. The most famous version was orchestrated by Sir Edward Elgar in 1922 for a large orchestra at the Leeds Festival. Upon hearing the orchestral version for the first time, King George V said that he preferred "Jerusalem" over " God Save the King", the National Anthem.
England does not have an official anthem, and so adopts " God Save the Queen", which is the United Kingdom and Commonwealth anthem. Since Jerusalem is considered to be England's most popular patriotic song, it has often been used as an alternative national anthem and there have been calls to give it official status. However critics of the song have said that its reference to a foreign city, its non-secular basis and the negative answers to each of its four questions make it unsuitable
The poem's idealistic theme or subtext accounts for its popularity across the philosophical spectrum. It was used as a campaign slogan by the Labour Party in the 1945 general election. ( Clement Attlee said they would build "a new Jerusalem"). The song is also the unofficial anthem of the British Women's Institute, and historically was used by the National Union of Suffrage Societies. It has also been sung at conferences of the British Conservative Party, and is also sung at the Glee Club of the British Liberal Assembly and British Liberal Democrats. It is frequently sung as an office or recessional hymn in English cathedrals, churches and chapels on St George's Day. The hymn is also sung in some churches on Jerusalem Sunday, a day set aside to celebrate the holy city, in Anglican Churches throughout the world and even in some Episcopal Churches in the U.S. However some vicars in the Church of England, according to the BBC TV programme "Jerusalem: An Anthem for England", have said that the song is not technically a hymn, as it is not a prayer to God (which hymns always are). Consequently, it is not sung in some churches in England.
Across the Atlantic, too, Parry's hymn lives a second life of sorts. In North America, the song persists as the school song of several private schools in New England and Canada.
Parry's tune is so well liked that some attempts have been made to increase its use elsewhere with other words. The established Church of Scotland debated altering the lyrics of the hymn to read " Albion" instead of England to make it more locally relevant. The tune has been set to several texts in the United States, where the traditional lyrics would have little relevance, including "O Love of God, how strong and true", which was performed in an arrangement by Michael McCarthy at Ronald Reagan's funeral at Washington National Cathedral in 2004. In some hymnals the tune is used with Carl P. Daw Jr.'s text "O Day of Peace That Dimly Shines" (based on Isaiah 11:1-9).
The popularity of Parry's arrangement has resulted in many hundreds of recordings being made, too numerous to list, of both traditional choral performances and new interpretations by popular music artists. Consequently only its most notable live performances are listed below.
- Since 2004 it has been the anthem of the England cricket team and is regularly sung by rugby union and rugby league crowds.
- During the 1920s, many Women's Institutes (British) started closing meetings by singing Hubert Parry's setting of William Blake's words And did those feet in ancient time, known as "Jerusalem", and this caught on nationally. Although it has never actually been adopted as the WI's official anthem, in practice it holds that position.
- It is sung every year by an audience of thousands at the end of the Last Night of the Proms in the Royal Albert Hall and simultaneously in the Proms in the Park venues throughout the country.
Other musical settings
Blake's lyrics have also been set to music by other composers without reference to Parry's melody. The words, with some variations, are used in the track Jerusalem on Bruce Dickinson's album The Chemical Wedding, which also includes lines from book two of Milton. Finn Coren also created a different musical setting for the poem on his album The Blake Project: Spring.
Chariots of Fire
"Bring me my chariot of fire" inspired the title of the film Chariots of Fire. A church congregation sings "Jerusalem" at close of the film. It is track six ("Jerusalem") on the Chariots of Fire soundtrack performed by the Ambrosian Singers with a partial Vangelis composition overlay.