The English are unusually absent from a lot of their very own tradition. They haven’t any parliament, no nationwide museum to inform their story, nor any nationwide anthem to name their very own. Consequently, the pomp and circumstance of the British id usually relegates Englishness to the again seat. Sport is among the few retailers during which the individuals of England are capable of see themselves represented as a nation and, within the faces of the group gamers, as a various neighborhood introduced collectively underneath the flag of St George.
And when in search of a music to precise that inclusive English id, they more and more attain for “Jerusalem”. For the reason that flip of the century, it has turn out to be the anthem of selection for the nationwide cricket and rugby union groups and, in 2010, the general public voted overwhelmingly for it to switch “Land of Hope and Glory” because the official anthem of Group England on the Commonwealth Video games.
But, like Englishness itself, the that means of William Blake’s poem is ambiguous. In his extremely accessible guide, Jerusalem: Blake, Parry and the Struggle for Englishness, Jason Whittaker units out to discover what Blake is saying in “Jerusalem” and what its revival within the twenty first century says about us.
The poem seems within the preface to Milton, considered one of Blake’s prophetic books, written and illustrated within the first decade of the Nineteenth century. It remained obscure till 1916, when Hubert Parry set it to music, and have become a fixture for the finale of the Final Night time of the Proms from 1953 onwards. But in contrast to the opposite songs sung lustily amid the flag-waving on the Royal Albert Corridor, Blake’s 4 quatrains weren’t written to stir patriotic emotions.
“Jerusalem” famously begins with a collection of inquiries to which the reply isn’t any: Did Jesus – “the Lamb of God” – go to England? Does God – “the Countenance Divine” – look upon the English with benevolence? Was the mannequin of Christian charity – “Jerusalem” – obvious in early Nineteenth-century England, the place the agricultural workforce have been being fed into the darkish Satanic mills of the Industrial Revolution?
Blake is aware of the reply to his rhetorical questions. Why else would he name for the instruments he might want to construct that compassionate neighborhood in our inexperienced and nice land? The truth that these metaphorical instruments are weapons has attracted militarists to the music because it was set to music throughout the First World Conflict. Parry was a number one composer of his day, the primary Englishman to put in writing complicated symphonies. Whittaker describes him as displaying a bias in opposition to Toryism, being a agency believer in girls’s suffrage who attended labour demonstrations in Hyde Park.
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But, when he was requested to provide you with a propaganda music for Struggle for Proper, a motion dedicated to “sustaining a passion for the battle” amongst a reluctant British citizenry, Parry duly composed the setting for Blake’s poem. Whereas he might have been appearing out of a way of patriotic obligation, disillusionment with the marketing campaign quickly adopted, and he withdrew assist in Could 1917.
Maybe conducting “Jerusalem” at a Votes for Girls demonstration on the Royal Albert Corridor earlier that 12 months had reminded Parry of his ideas. The chief of the Nationwide Union of Girls’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), Millicent Fawcett, wrote him a letter of thanks: “Your ‘Jerusalem’ should be made the Girls Voters Hymn.” Parry concurred, donating the copyright of the music to the NUWSS.
Thus since its creation, Parry’s “Jerusalem” has led a twin existence. Sure, it’s a patriotic music, however patriotism has many shades. For the standard patriot, whose id is sure up in symbols which can be immutable and establishments that should be supported, such because the monarchy and the armed forces, “Jerusalem” is stripped of its query marks – the English are clearly God’s anointed individuals. For the progressive patriot, who takes satisfaction within the values that the nation aspires to uphold and believes in collective options to society’s issues, Blake’s phrases are a name to motion: have a look at this God-forsaken land! Let’s work collectively to make it higher. Therein might lie its enchantment over extra unambiguously patriotic songs resembling “Rule Britannia”. It’s definitely turn out to be the individuals’s selection for weddings, funerals or civic occasions. In that sense, “Jerusalem” has turn out to be a form of English non secular.
However what was Blake’s that means in writing the poem? Whittaker attracts our consideration to Blake’s paragraphs that proceed “Jerusalem”s opening line, “And did these ft in historic time…” within the preface to Milton, which, taken collectively, Whittaker describes as a manifesto. The second paragraph begins: “Rouze up O Younger Males of the New Age! Set your foreheads in opposition to the ignorant Hirelings! For we’ve got Hirelings within the Camp, the Courtroom & the College: who would if they might, for ever depress Psychological & delay Corporeal Conflict.” This distinction between psychological combat and bodily violence is essential to understanding the music. The poem’s arrows of want and the bow of burning gold are metaphorical weapons, as is the sword of justice, which Blake guarantees won’t sleep in his hand.
The Church of England appears alert to the poem’s intent, having been cautious of together with “Jerusalem” in its hymnals, arguing that it doesn’t meet the standard definition of a hymn as a music in reward of God. In his use of spiritual imagery, Blake has extra in widespread with the unconventional sects of the seventeenth century, such because the Diggers and the Ranters, who have been impressed by biblical texts to problem the established order. It was a time when the extraordinary individuals of England have been moved by their religion to talk out in opposition to injustice, taking over arms in opposition to the aristocracy. That sentiment is echoed within the ultimate line of the preface to Milton. Beneath the phrases of “Jerusalem” Blake wrote “Would to God that every one the Lords individuals have been prophets”.
Whittaker has enjoyable tracing the curious journey that the music has been on during the last 100 years, from being the favorite of George V within the Nineteen Thirties – he most well-liked it to “God Save the King” – to being adopted by the Labour Occasion within the Forties. Clement Attlee recognised Blake’s imaginative and prescient as a becoming inspiration for a postwar authorities engaged in constructing the New Jerusalem of the welfare state.
When a lot of Fawcett’s foot troopers went on to affix the Girls’s Institute (WI), they took their music with them, giving sexist commentators a chance to dismiss the work of the WI as nothing greater than “jam and Jerusalem”. By the late Seventies it was ripe for parody by anybody seeking to evoke the complacency of the postwar consensus. Studying the way it was utilized by pop musicians within the Eighties and Nineties has made me realise that I would be the solely artist of that interval to document a model of the music free from any trace of irony.
With its connections to girls’s suffrage, “Jerusalem” would have been a great anthem for the Lionesses to sing earlier than their matches on the latest European Championships. But the FA appears nervous about changing “God Save the King/Queen”, maybe as a result of it fears the belligerent response of a vocal, nearly solely male, minority of England followers, which nonetheless sours the ambiance at males’s internationals.
“Jerusalem” waits for the individuals of England to seek out the braveness to embrace an inclusive, post-imperial id. By taking a deep dive into the historical past of the music, Whittaker provides us an inspiring perception into what may very well be a rallying level for that new English id.
Jerusalem: Blake, Parry and the Struggle for Englishness
Oxford College Press, 272pp, £25
[See also: Hilary Mantel: “I had to be in middle age to imagine what the weight of life does to you”]