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.
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.
Oliver Wates’ letter in today’s Independent backs up Anthem4England’s view that the use of God Save the Queen as an English anthem undermines Britishness.
Scottish nationalism would not be the force it is today without the perverse decision by the (England) Rugby Football Union to use the British national anthem for the England team (letters, 11, 12, 13, 14 January).
In the 1960s, to be a Scottish Nationalist was the equivalent of declaring your religion as Jedi Knight. No one took them seriously. Scots would be desperate for their team to thrash England at Murrayfield, but at the end of the match they were still as British as the men in white.
Several decades of rugby as a televised spectator sport have changed all that. How can a young Scot who grows up seeing the British national anthem being used to represent the “enemy” team feel fully British? You could not devise a better way to alienate an entire people. It screams, “You are second-class citizens”.
Why on earth did the RFU allow this damaging and illegitimate use of the British anthem? A simple phone call to the effect that HM did not approve of her British anthem being appropriated by just one of the four UK constituents would have settled the matter and we’d all be singing “Jerusalem” instead.
A whole generation of Scots has grown up to think of “Britain” as no more than a vehicle for English arrogance. It didn’t have to be like that.
Canon Donald Gray, former Chaplain to the Queen, speaking on the Channel 4 programme 4thought on 16 October 2010, opposed the introduction of “Jerusalem” as our national anthem instead of “God Save the Queen”. He believes it is divisive, suggesting that the industrial working classes are less fortunate than those who live in the countryside, and it also gives credibility to the notion that Jesus and Joseph of Arimathea came to Glastonbury. He supported the continuing use of “God Save the Queen” because it was a simple prayer for the Queen and she values our prayers.
He was actually setting up a straw-man and knocking it down again, because nobody actually believes that “God Save the Queen” should be replaced by anything. As far as I am aware, it is and always will be the national anthem of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. He didn’t make any reference to the need for a separate anthem for England, or the questions that inevitably arise when the same anthem is used to represent both the UK and England at international sporting events.
Turning to his specific criticism of “Jerusalem”, the “dark satanic mills” could mean the smoke-stacks of the industrial revolution, or they could symbolise the boring monotony of an office job, pushing papers across a desk. Most people, when they go on holiday, travel from towns and cities to the seaside or countryside, or they go to places of historic or cultural interest. They know what they want to get away from and where they want to go, and the question of social division is really a non-issue.
As for the question of Jesus and Joseph of Arimathea going to Glastonbury, it’s a possibility but it cannot be proved. More likely, I think, is the suggestion made by some, that Joseph came with other followers of Jesus after his death and resurrection. Jesus told them to go to the uttermost parts of the earth and preach the gospel, and that includes here. So it’s possible that Simon Zelotes, Aristobulus and the Apostle Paul all came to Britain, and I have discussed some of the evidence for this in my book “Forgotten History of the Western People“. William Blake wasn’t promoting the idea that Jesus came to Britain, he was merely asking whether or not it was possible, and he might have been poking fun at the British Israelites who believed it. The important thing is that, after centuries of struggle when it was dangerous to have the wrong views, we have emerged as a society where you can believe whatever you like as long as you are peaceful and law-abiding. This is what makes us great, and this is why Jerusalem is a great hymn for England, because you can believe whatever you like about what it means.
Channel4’s 4thought.tv has several short films discussing Jerusalem.
Should Jerusalem be adopted as the English national anthem? Pianist and composer Guy Pearson believes that, 200 years after it was written, Jerusalem is still totally relevant because it speaks about the liberation of the human soul, and that it would make a great anthem for planet earth.
Should Jerusalem be adopted as the English national anthem? Canon Donald Gray was chaplain to the Queen for 20 years. He thinks that Jerusalem is patronising to people who live in cities and believes that the Queen appreciates when the people sing their prayer to her: God Save the Queen.
Should Jerusalem be adopted as the English national anthem? Radio presenter Juanne Fuller ‘detests’ God Save the Queen because it excludes people who do not believe in God or the monarchy, and thinks that Jerusalem would make a brilliant anthem as it speaks about fighting for a better society for all.
Should Jerusalem be adopted as the English national anthem? Broadcaster Henry Bonsu would not feel comfortable with Jerusalem as the national anthem: for him, the ‘green and pleasant land’ of the hymn reminds him of the hostility he has faced when visiting the English countryside.
Should Jerusalem be adopted as the English national anthem? Ollie Baines of the classical group Blake remembers singing Jerusalem for the Queen and at the funeral of a close friend, and believes it is a stirring anthem that everyone can get behind.
Should Jerusalem be adopted as the English national anthem? Comedian and actress Francesca Martinez doesn’t believe a Christian song should be used as an anthem for a country that is so strongly multicultural: in fact, she questions whether we should have a national anthem at all.
English athletes at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi are using the hymn Jerusalem as their official anthem for the first time. For some people it is a proud, patriotic song, for others an uncomfortable reminder of Empire, but should Jerusalem replace the national anthem?
Twenty-six-year-old WI member Gemma Waznicki is proud that Jerusalem has been the anthem of the Women’s Institute for almost 100 years, inspiring generations of women to fight for equality.
The adoption of Jerusalem as England’s ‘victory anthem’ at the Commonwealth Games has provoked some controversy. Admittedly not much, but some. The Guardian decided to conduct an online poll to determine what the English anthem should have been. Could’ve, would’ve, should’ve… Too late, Guardian.
Our first gold medalist, Fran Halsall, complained that she did not know the words:
“It definitely wasn’t expected, even my coach got a little bit excited about that and he doesn’t get excited by much. It was really nice to see the England flag at the top and two Aussies underneath. I don’t really know the words to Jerusalem, though: I was going to sing Land of Hope and Glory because that’s the one I know.”
Jerusalem was slagged off by Clare Balding and everyone in the BBC studio. Clare read out one of the ‘many’ anthem-related emails that they had received, and the particular one she chose asked “Why is our anthem not God Save the Queen?” To her credit Clare gave the following answer that could have been lifted straight from this site.
Technically it shouldn’t be actually because, obviously, God Save the Queen is the national anthem of Great Britain, it is not the national anthem of England and it would be rather arrogant if England were to assume that it was.
Liam Tancock, England’s second gold medalist of the day, was far more relaxed, remarking that Jerusalem allowed him to enjoy a longer time on the podium than would otherwise have been his privilege with the shorter Land of Hope and Glory.
Jon Cruddas, champion of the Labour left, has written in support of Jerusalem as England’s national anthem in today’s New Statesman:
Labour has attempted to tackle the question of national identity before. In 1995 Blair described living in “a new age but in an old country”. Then, in 1997, the opportunist branding exercise of “Cool Britannia” took hold. In Brown’s jaded administrative appeal to Britishness a decade later, the search for an overarching national story reappeared. These were all elite expressions of nationhood concocted in Westminster. This time, Labour has to go to the streets. Let’s debate the idea of an English parliament in, say, York. Why not have elected mayors and parliaments in our major cities and give them back their civic identity and vitality? We are a footballing nation – let’s elect the manager of our national team. Then Labour could campaign for a new national anthem – “Jerusalem” – and allow the English to stand tall again.
A hymn is a type of song, usually religious, specifically written for the purpose of praise, adoration or prayer, and typically addressed to a deity or deities, or to a prominent figure or personification. The word hymn derives from Greek ὕμνος (hymnos), “a song of praise”.
In recent years the Church of England has appeared divided over the suitability of Jerusalem for religious occasions, mainly on account of the fact that it is not – in the view of many people – a proper hymn. However, as reported in today’s press (see the Telegraph and Mail), the Church of England have now come down in favour of the singing Jerusalem at weddings, a decision that will be a relief to a great many couples given that Jerusalem is the fifth most popular choice of for CofE weddings. The following is taken from the Church of England website:
Sung in churches, used by various organisations, and having been selected by the England Commonwealth Games team for their ‘victory anthem’, the hymn Jerusalem is liked by many but not all.
The Bishop of Wakefield, the Rt Revd Stephen Platten, said: “The runaway success of the planner shows the popularity of liturgy and hymns and what can happen when planning a service is made user friendly. These hymns, all firmly fixed in our hymn books, are much loved and have a rightful place in Church of England worship and in the online ceremony planner.”
A factsheet by the Revd Peter Moger, National Worship Development Officer, called Singing Jerusalem at Weddings, has also been released, as a guide for clergy. It highlights various ways to build on the hymn’s enduring popularity with churchgoers, various organisations and sports fans to “make a marriage special” and “forge a positive and lasting relationship with wedding couples”.
Whether this is a victory for common sense or a case of the Church bowing to popular and commercial demand is unclear. It’s most probably a bit of both. And frankly, who cares?
On St George’s Day 2010 Commonwealth Games England announced that they would let the nation decide which anthem is to be played at this year’s Commonwealth Games in Delhi by allowing the public to vote for the song of their choice.
Voters were able to choose between God Save The Queen, Jerusalem and Land of Hope and Glory – with Jerusalem beating the both the national anthem and the anthem previously used for English athletes competing at Commonwealth Games. The new official anthem of the England Team will be played for English athletes on the podium in Delhi when a Gold medal is won.
England athlete Dean Macey, who won Gold at the 2006 Games in Melbourne, welcomed the new anthem, saying: “Jerusalem’s awesome for getting you pumped before competing. Couple this with the huge pride that comes in wearing the red lion and you’ve got the perfect anthem for England’s Commonwealth Games’.
Duncan Lewis, Marketing Director for Commonwealth Games England, said, “The nation has spoken and we are delighted to accept Jerusalem as the anthem for England athletes in Delhi. The response from the public has been absolutely fantastic and I hope they will carry on this level of enthusiasm in supporting the team in Delhi this summer.”
Survey by YouGov of 1,896 entrants
1. Jerusalem: 52.5%
2. Land of Hope and Glory: 32.5%
3. God Save The Queen: 12%
Which is the only nation competing to qualify for the 2010 World Cup that, when the two teams line up ahead of kick off, doesn’t have an anthem to call its own? Easy! Easy! England of course. Whatever the Scots, Welsh and at least half the Northern Irish’s view of the Royal Family, God Save the Queen is as much their anthem as ours, so why on earth doesn’t England get a tune that belongs to us?
Of course the Scots and the Welsh have decided that while God Save the Queen is good enough when the Union Jack is run up the Olympic Flagpole for their Gold Medalists Chris Hoy and Nicole Cook, when their football or rugby teams are competing in the colours of Scotland or Wales its time to belt out Flower of Scotland or Land of My Fathers. OK, so Northern Ireland has opted for no anthem of their own, though at Stormont they do at least have a Parliament they can call their own, a subject for another debate.
‘Happy and Glorious’ God Save the Queen goes, and ‘long to reign over us’ a line later. Nothing could sum up English subjecthood better. Of course the Royal Family are happy, because they reign over us at our expense, but the argument for an anthem to call our own cannot be reduced to making the case for English Republicanism. However, a song that celebrates being ruled by others put in place simply by accident of birth, and which in not one stanza ever actually mentions England is surely not a fitting tune.
After World Cup 2002 the FA quietly ran a poll amongst England supporters on whether an alternative to God Save the Queen should be considered for international matches. With zero campaigning, and no alternatives offerred, an astonishing 36% voted for change. Nothing came of it, the opportunity to inauguarate the new Wembley with an anthem to call our own squandered, but there remains significant popular support whenever the argument is made not in terms of knocking God Save the Queen but simply pointing out that England should have its own anthem.
And the contenders? Well it would be very New Labour to commission Simon Cowell and Andrew Lloyd Webber to come up with ‘Anthem Idol’ wouldn’t it? It’s just the sort of thing Blair-lite Cameron might favour too. But twenty-first century manufacturing of tradition could never match the heritage of the songs we have on offer to choose from.
Each will have their favourites. If I was asked to plump for a modern classic I’d choose The Jam’s English Rose. Haunting, full of longing for a country. But that’s probably too up-to-date for most tastes. I Vow To Thee My Country has probably the best tune of the lot but I’m not sure that words written by a Yank entirely fit the bill – although music provided by a Swedish immigrant born in Cheltenham is rather neat. Rule Britannia is rousing enough yet is clearly a British anthem, not an English one in any obvious sense. Some will differ but I also find the singing of ‘Britons, never, never will be slaves’ more than a tad dodgy when the team we’re supporting on the pitch is made up of a fair number of players whose great grandparents were precisely that, slaves. Land of Hope and Glory fails for me on similar counts. Again, with no actual mention of England it is a celebration of the Britishness of Empire, not England. And do we really want a tune that marks England’s fate after Empire ‘By Freedom gained, by Truth maintained, Thine Empire shall be strong’.
No there’s one runaway contender, presuming Cowell and Lloyd-Webber failed to find their anthem-factor. Jerusalem. Words by one of England’s greatest cultural figures, William Blake. Artist, poet, thinker. Music by an English composer. The words actually mention England. A bit too Christian? That might put off some, attract others. But of course the Jerusalem Blake was writing about was a better, brighter society we could call England. A bit political? Come off it, who doesn’t want a better England, the argument is only what we might mean by better.
Will it ever happen? I mean an anthem to call our own, not the better England! I entirely back the idea of an English Parliament but right now I would put the anthem, and a day off for St George’s Day too, right at the core of campaigning for England’s place in the break up of Britain. These are hugely popular issues, they carry none of the trappings of Westminster politics currently mired in scandal and disrepute. Yet they codify our difference, our independence and have the potential to appeal to all who call England their home.
Mark Perryman is the editor of Imagined Nation : England after Britain and co-founder of philosophyfootball.com. The company poduces a T-shirt with the words to Jerusalem forming a St George Cross, and on the back for fans of cult 70s sci-fi… well what other squad number could you give William Blake apart from ‘7’. Available from philosophyfootball.com
By strange osmosis, lads too young to remember the Northern Ireland conflict - never mind World War II - still swallow the old England songbook and travel to away games to chant about wars, “10 German bombers” and the IRA.