And did those feet in ancient time

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?

The text is from the preface to Milton, written by William Blake in 1804. Underneath he wrote text from Numbers 11:29; 'Would to God that all the Lord's people were prophets'. There are two differing interpretations of the hymn. One sees it as a plea for intuition and imagination against scientific rationalism; the 'dark satanic mills' have nothing to do with factories but represent the cold logical approach of philosophers like Locke and Bacon which Blake deplored. Jerusalem represents the ideal life of freedom as divine. Blake said "I know of no other Christianity and of no other gospel than the liberty both of body and mind to exercise the divine arts of imagination". The other interpretation is as a call for the rule of those values of political and social justice and freedom which will build a new Jerusalem in Britain. The phrase 'chariots of fire' is taken from 2 Kings 2:11. The suggestion that Jesus may have set foot in England comes from the old legend which told of Christ's wanderings as a young man with St Joseph of Arimathea. The words 'I will not cease from mental fight' onwards were used as the motto of the Guild of St Matthew, and became popular amongst Christian Socialists in the 1880's.

Tune - Jerusalem

The 'political and social' interpretation was in the mind of Robert Bridges when he asked Sir Hubert Parry to write 'suitable simple music to Blake's words, music that an audience could take up and join in'. Parry gave the manuscript of Jerusalem to Sir Walford Davies, saying "Here's a tune for you, old chap. Do what you like with it". Early performances were at a meeting of the 'Fight for the Right' movement at the Queen's Hall, and a meeting at the Royal Albert Hall in 1918 to celebrate the granting of votes for women. Parry was reported as being very happy with the tune, particularly at the 'O' of 'O clouds unfold'. The strength of the hymn lies in the persistent tonality of B minor and E minor against the home key of D major. The first hymn book to use the tune was A Students' Hymnal in 1923, and the present organ arrangement was written by Sir George Thalben-Ball in 1950.

Nigel Day
© St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 30th December 2005