About the Song
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?
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
Jerusalem‘s rousing lyrics, opening with the famous line ‘And did those feet in ancient time‘, were written by the poet William Blake in around 1808. Blake was inspired by the legend of Jesus visiting England, in particular Glastonbury, with relative Joseph of Arimatheia. In 2009 this legend was explored in the documentary ‘And Did Those Feet’. It was included in the preface to his epic Milton: A Poem in Two Books.
The poem was supposedly inspired by the apocryphal story that a young Jesus, accompanied by Joseph of Arimathea, a tin merchant, travelled to what is now England and visited Glastonbury during his so-called "unknown years". Most scholars reject the historical authenticity of this story out of hand, and according to British folklore scholar A. W. Smith, "there was little reason to believe that an oral tradition concerning a visit made by Jesus to Britain existed before the early part of the twentieth century". The poem's theme is linked to the Revelations (3:12 and 21:2) describing a Second Coming (on Christ), wherein Jesus establishes a New Jerusalem. Churches in general have long used Jerusalem as a metaphor for Heaven a place of universal love and peace.
In the most common interpretation of the poem, Blake asks whether a visit by Jesus briefly created heaven in England, in contrast to the "dark Satanic Mills" of the Industrial Revolution. Blake's poem asks four questions rather than asserting the historical truth of Christ's visit. The 2nd verse is interpreted as an exhortation to create an ideal society in England, whether or not there was a divine visit.Over a century later in 1916, composer Hubert Parry set the poem to music to raise Britain’s morale as life was bleak with World War I raging, tremendous numbers of men were dying, and no end was in sight. He wrote the setting just two years before his death.
The hymn came to be associated with the Women’s Institute (WI) because of suffragette Millicent Fawcett. She asked if it could be used for the Women’s Sufferage Movement and in 1918 a band of women sung the hymn at a suffrage rally taking place at the Royal Albert Hall. Then in the early 1920s one of the founders of the WI, and fellow suffragette, Grace Hadow came up with the idea of using the hymn as the WI’s anthem. In 1924 it was officially adopted, and has now been sung by WI members for nearly a century…It was used by the Labor Party as a campaign song in the 1945 general election asserting that by winning they could bring the "New Jerusalem" to birth in England.
Today it is often proposed as an alternative national anthem for England instead of ‘God Save The Queen’, and is often used to celebrate English achievements in sporting events such the Commonwealth Games.