"Jerusalem" was sung at the Royal Wedding some two weeks ago today, a piece of English nationalism and nostalgia which was welcomed by many. The Idle Historian was live-tweeting the wedding, and noticed two comments on twitter (alas, sadly, lost, so I am unable to give just credit where it is due). One user wondered why they were singing a hymn, about which the obvious answers to the four opening questions (about the myth of Jesus having traveled to England) were: no, no, no, and um, no. Another user commented on the fact that so many of the powerful and influential were singing Jerusalem (actually quite a "radical," or even revolutionary, piece) with apparently so little understanding of the words they were singing.
Jerusalem is based on a poem by William Blake (one of the Romantic poets). He combined the myth of a young Jesus having traveled to England with an expression of reformist zeal to ameliorate the conditions caused by the Industrial Revolution (the "dark Satanic mills") and overturn the values of a society crassly based on commerce and materialism. The music was composed by Sir Hubert Parry in 1916, and the hymn gained popularity throughout the twentieth century. It is now the virtually uncontested "anthem of England," sung at sporting events, important gatherings, and each year at the famous Last Night of the Proms. It is nostalgia and patriotism personified, and few English people can feel wholly unmoved at hearing it.
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountain 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 those 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.
Read more reflections on history, idleness, and the art of living from the Idle Historian in To The Idler The Spoils