Jerusalem

Over the past few days this site has received a huge number of visitors and requests for comment. There have been numerous requests from radio stations in England and abroad to participate in phone-in shows, and requests for quotes and commentary from print and digital media.

One such request received today was from a Turkish agency who asked:

What is the significance of this poem for you?
What does Jerusalem as a city mean for you?
Does your preference for this poem have any relation with the importance given to Jerusalem as a city?

I dashed off a response and then thought that I would share it here because this belief that Jerusalem refers to an actual place seems widespread, even among the English.

Hello,

The Jerusalem referred to in Blake’s work is a metaphor for a better place (heaven on earth). It does not refer to the Jerusalem in Israel but to a mythical time long ago when people lived in harmony with each other. In the song Jerusalem Blake is suggesting that we build this new Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land. For a full understanding you would need to read Blake’s other works in which he constructs his own mythology around Albion and Jerusalem.

The opening lines refer to the legend that Jesus visited England as a child with Joseph of Arimethea. During Blake’s lifetime this was a popular belief propagated by a group called the ‘British Israelites’ who also believed that the British were one of the lost tribes of Israel. Depending on your perspective you can answer Blake’s Questions with a Yes or a No.

I don’t believe in God, I doubt that Jesus visited England, and I don’t believe that Blake’s Jerusalem ever existed, so my answers would all be No.

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon Englands mountains green: No
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen! No

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills? No
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills? No

But the take home message here, for me at least, is that whether or not Jesus visited England, we are blessed with a ‘green and pleasant’ land and should strive to rebuild Jerusalem here. This is a call to human agency – ‘Till we have built Jerusalem’ – rather than an appeal to God’s charity.

The ‘Dark Satanic Mills’ that Blake refers to are most often taken to be the factories and workhouses of the industrial revolution. Some academics believe that they refer to the orthodox churches of the Establishment or to Oxford and Cambridge universities. I like to believe that Blake was referring to all these and also, in a more abstract sense, to the ‘mills of the mind’ – the calculating rationalism that had moved people away from the spirituality that would make a new Jerusalem possible.

In summary the poem/song is a call to make England a better place. The great thing about it, for me, is that it is so open to interpretation. It is full of Christian imagery but many non-Christians love it because they can answer in the negative, and it’s a call to human agency rather than a call to God to save or protect us. And as for the dark satanic mills, today they could be call centres, the Houses of Parliament or social media.

Jerusalem as a city means nothing to me personally, I’m an atheist. Having said that I would very much like to visit because it looks like a fascinating and beautiful place.

Jerusalem is head and shoulders above the other contenders for the crown, in my opinion. Land of Hope and Glory is a fantastic tub-thumping anthem but it is an imperialistic song about making Britain’s empire ‘wider still and wider’, and it includes a direct appeal to God to make us mightier. For those reasons it should be discounted or rewritten. I Vow to Thee my Country is beautiful but it smacks of chauvinism.

But that is just my opinion. If you would like your opinion to appear on this site please follow the instructions on our Facebook post.

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16 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Kev Solly says:

    Bring me my bow of burning gold!
    Bring me my arrows of desire!
    Bring me my spear: o clouds unfold!
    Bring me my chariots 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

    Notice Gareth left that verse out hmm Crusader talk if ever I heard it

    At the end of the day we need a tub thumper lyrics can be changed (Notice we no longer beseech Marshall Wade to bring the Scots to heel)

    At the end of the day a dirge is a dirge and Jerusalem in my ESHO is no1 in that department and if the “Scotsman” supports what does that tell you

    Me personally Land of Hope and Glory

    • Gareth says:

      Crusader talk? No, Blake opposed war. Clearly Blake is summoning people to join the fight to build Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land.

    • Change lyric of war torn ‘Jerusalem’ to ‘UTOPIA’ for Anthem.
      Would we really want to ‘Build’ today’s war torn ‘Jerusalem’ in ‘England’s green and pleasant land’? Change to ‘UTOPIA’ and then we have a winner of an anthem.

  2. Tim Jones says:

    Personally I think the new anthem should be I vow to thee my country…just my view…

  3. fungus addams says:

    I favour Marilyn Manson’s epic tune ‘Fight Song’ as England’s anthem. Stirring, aggressive and a passionate rejection of the slavish adherence to outdated religious beliefs. A wonderful song for a secular England.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9GFI6Rf-IkI

  4. Alfred the OK says:

    Opinion polls have consistently confirmed that Jerusalem is the anthem of choice amongst English people (around 70% in favour). So let’s just get on with it and tell the FA & RFU that the people will not tolerate any more body-swerving from the blue-blazered brigades.

    What amazes me is all the fuss surrounding this. Scotland & Wales have just done it, gone ahead and got one of their own with not too much fuss. But here in England, it’s not that simple. Cue navel gazing, cue the handwringing, cue the Brit’ obsessives (like Melanie Phillips & Jacob Rees-Mogg) warning us that the sky will fall in if the English are allowed any such expression of national pride.

    • Change lyric of war torn ‘Jerusalem’ to ‘UTOPIA’ for Anthem.
      Would we really want to ‘Build’ today’s war torn ‘Jerusalem’ in ‘England’s green and pleasant land’? Change to ‘UTOPIA’ and then we have a winner of an anthem.

  5. NIGEL MURRAY says:

    It seems to me almost inevitable that, for very good musical reasons, Sir Hubert Parry’s tune “Jerusalem” will become the tune that, in the culture of our land will eventually replace our present anthem “The Queen”.

    But it is equally obvious that the words to Jerusalem do not please anybody very much. Because of that we need to write new ones. Go to http://www.anthem4england.co.uk/previouspolls and, scrolling down, you will find an attempt to break new ground by doing just that.

    • Change lyric of war torn ‘Jerusalem’ to ‘UTOPIA’ for Anthem.
      Would we really want to ‘Build’ today’s war torn ‘Jerusalem’ in ‘England’s green and pleasant land’? Change to ‘UTOPIA’ and then we have a winner of an anthem.

  6. K Hodge says:

    ‘Jerusalem’ for me.

    As an over 70, my views may be considered aged, but what is wrong with that? As an Englishman I love this country and its heritage. I appreciate that it is not everyone’s choice and if this lone voice counts for nothing with regret it must be; that this heart will always love England, is my privilege, my Victory.

  7. Paul Lewis says:

    I co-wrote a new sing-along anthem last year with Matthew Turner because I was fed up with the lack of an English anthem at the Six Nations. It’s called “The Red Rose of England”. You can sing “The three lions of England” instead to it if that’s what’s on your shirt. Unfortunately we haven’t had 100 years of publicity so it’s not very well known but it deserves, I think anyway, to be on the list as an option. You can find out more by going to http://www.theredroseofengland.co.uk

  8. Tony says:

    My favourite of the existing songs would be ‘Jerusalem’ because it’s not chauvinistic and for me its basic meaning is ‘England is a lovely place but we could make it even better’. Trouble with ‘Jerusalem’ is that it contains a lot of other inagery that many people find off-putting. I’d prefer a new song that centred on the theme ‘England is a lovely place but we could make it even better’. Too bad I don’t have the talent to write it!

    • Change lyric of war torn ‘Jerusalem’ to ‘UTOPIA’ for Anthem.
      Would we really want to ‘Build’ today’s war torn ‘Jerusalem’ in ‘England’s green and pleasant land’? Change to ‘UTOPIA’ and then we have a winner of an anthem.

  9. Steve Nulty says:

    Has anybody heard “Rocket Robin Hood?” You will probably find it on You Tube. Maybe tinker with the words? Sorry, obviously I’m not taking this debate seriously am I?

  10. Steve Nulty says:

    Yes… “Rocket Robin Hood?” Great words…

    “Band of brothers marching together.
    Heads held high in all kinds of weather.
    der der der der der der……..
    ……
    Send a joyous shout throughout the land for Rocket Robin Hood!!”

    Very catchy…and Robin Hood was English!

  11. Change lyric of war torn ‘JERUSALEM’ to ‘UTOPIA’ for Anthem.
    Would we really want to ‘Build’ today’s war torn ‘Jerusalem’ in ‘England’s green and pleasant land’? Change to ‘UTOPIA’ and then we have a winner of an anthem.

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…you don’t have to be English to be stirred by Jerusalem. You only have to be a human being.

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