Jerusalem (Parry 1916) [2:07]

William Blake - a man who both sketched his wife and sang on his deathbed - wrote an Epic poem named Milton which concerns the eponymous hero coming back from the dead to compare notes with the poet about those writers living at that time and how they relate to their predecessors. The poem is massive, complicated, dense, wonderfully illustrated and moderately crazy, but in its preface it contains a small poem entitled And Did Those Feet In Ancient Time which was later set to music by Hubert Parry in 1916.

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

Love the weird capitalisations, William.

Some have debated what the 'dark Satanic Mills' are or were. Some think it's a literal statement about the industrialisation of London and the enslavement of the workers. Others think that it is more likely a veiled reference to churches, or (specifically) to the Church of England, an organisation that did not count upon Blake's support at any time. Either way, it's a statement of Blake's appeal to what he phrased as 'universal humanity', where neither church nor employer should bully you around. He was no fan of the state or crown either, being an outspoken advocate for the French Revolution. "As all men are alike (tho' infinitely various)", as he said. In a nutshell, William Blake loved humanity and loved his God; he just didn't like the organisations that were set up around them.

Oddly, the song was set to music by Parry as part of the Fight for Right movement, and as such was used by ultra-patriots in defence of the Great War (among other things). He withdrew his support for them and might have even withdrawn the song were it not saved by the Suffragettes which seems to have pleased him a lot more. Fittingly, on his death the copyright for the song was handed over to them and later, when they were disbanded, it was reassigned to the Women's Institutes who held onto it until it entered the public domain in 1968.

Oddly (again) - despite being in the official hymnary, some clergy in the Church of England don't like the song being there and don't even view it as a hymn, as it's not a prayer to Him Upstairs so they refuse to allow it to be sung. William would be delighted.

My arrangement is slavishly predictable. There are more choirs on this than I can rightfully remember. At one time I was thinking of making it a capella, but resisted this as it would sound a little monotonous. The organs swoop in on the second verse/stanza pair to beef it all up somewhat. I just love it. So did Hubert Parry. In fact, he was relieved he didn't have to lose the tune entirely as he was entranced by one note in the piece - the D on the line 'O clouds unfold' - that he wordlessly pointed it out to the first conductor and nodded.

Then he remarked 'Here's a tune for you, old chap. Do what you like with it.'

Instrumentation: Mellotrons M400 and Mk V playing

FLAC version here.

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