Jerusalem: The Story of a Song
By: Edwin John Lerner - Chronos Books - $19.95
Description: Jerusalem: The Story of a Song is a popular history of England�s unofficial national
anthem, which began life as a poem by William Blake, was set to music by Hubert Parry and is sung
every year at the Last Night of the Proms.
Verdict: Taking it from the top, Jerusalem [�And did those feet in ancient time�] by famed poet
William Blake, is written as so:
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands 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 Englands green & pleasant Land.
Personbally, I can�t quite remember what brought up William Blake, or the poem known as �Jerusalem,� but
suddenly, I was brought back to the Hubert Parry anthem setting of this poem. It�s ironic to me,
and I can�t quite figure it out, how an anthem that King George V preferred over �God Save the King,�
and that infiltrated popular culture, being adored as a sublimely patriotic song, could have arisen
from a poem whose lyrics and their composer harbor distinctly non-conservative views.
Perhaps that�s the genius of Blake, or Parry, or both.
In truth, Blake had a complicated relationship to religion, or spirituality, and it is that
relationship that makes his work intriguing, if sometimes baffling, to contemporary readers.
He created an entire alternate universe, almost like science-fiction, his own mythological world,
and yet he believed in the essence, as he saw it, of Christianity.
Blake�s poem, which he did not originally call �Jerusalem,� comes in the preface to his epic
Milton: A Poem in Two Books, composed between 1804 and 1810. First, there is a screed attacking
Greek and Latin writers: �The Stolen and Perverted Writings of Homer & Ovid, of Plato and Cicero,
which all Men ought to contemn, are set up by artifice against the Sublime of the Bible� Shakespeare
and Milton were both cursed by the general malady & infection from the silly Greek & Latin slaves of
the Sword.� He rails against hirelings in �the Camp, the Court & the University� and begs painters
and sculptors not to give in to the temptation of lucre and false advertising.
Phew! Then he writes something odd: �We do not want either Greek or Roman models if we are but just &
true to our own Imaginations, those Worlds of Eternity in which we shall live forever in Jesus our
In the final sentence, Blake seems to equate the human imagination with a Christian vision. Many
today would argue that imagination is a personal realm, sacred to the self, inaccessible to any
outside influence, whereas religion is precisely that kind of organizing system that someone like
Blake should decry.
But I believe Blake, for all his odd conceptions and inconsistencies, thought deeply about literature
and saw in the Bible, and in the figure of Christ in particular, an antidote to the rise of the
Industrial Revolution, which he saw as a terribly pernicious cancer in the society of his time.
That, to me, is the meaning of the idea of �Jerusalem� for Blake, but what exactly does Blake intend
by �Jerusalem�? Again, in various writings, including his epic poem Jerusalem, he works around the
issue, reluctant to state his belief in definitive terms. I understand that by �Jerusalem� Blake
intends another metaphor, this time to stand for an ideal world of love and mutual respect,
as evidenced in the most literal interpretation, in Blake�s eyes, of the teachings of Jesus,
perhaps even taking them out of the context of the Bible and the clutches of church elders through
In essence, Blake is calling for an anarchist world, free from oppressive contracts, including
marriage. That is what he would see flourishing �In Englands green & pleasant Land.�
Thus, here in Jerusalem: The Story of a Song, author Edwin John Lerner unearths more invaluable information
and thoughts on the subject of how this poem became lodged in history as England�s unofficial national
About the Author - Edwin Lerner is a tourist guide and writer who has authored several books
and articles on travel and tourism. He is a member of the Association of Professional Tourist Guides
and edits their monthly magazine Guidelines - a name he claims to have invented. He lives in West
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