Tuesday, 29 June 2010


My MP, Mr Greg Mulholland, has recently called for a debate in Parliament about the adoption of an English national anthem (in case anyone isn't quite sure, there isn't one at the moment, at least not an official one - "God Save the Queen" is the anthem of the whole UK).

Apparently "Jerusalem" has been chosen by public vote, ahead of "Land of Hope and Glory", to be played for English winners at the Commonwealth Games this year, so if we do ever get an English anthem it's likely to be a strong contender.  The words go like this:
And did those feet in ancient time.
Walk upon England's 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 England's green and pleasant Land
I've always felt a little uncomfortable with this hymn, mainly because of the somewhat militaristic overtones of the last 2 verses, which in the context of a national anthem (or similar) I can't help associating with the Crusades.  The first 2 verses have always annoyed me a bit as well - every time I hear them I want to reply: "Of course he didn't!"; "Of course it wasn't!".

Before I dismiss it too heavily though, it's worth remembering that this hymn is based on a poem - by William Blake - and poetry is rarely meant to be taken entirely literally.  The first 2 verses are actually inspired by an (admittedly extremely unlikely) apocryphal story that Jesus once travelled to England with his uncle, Joseph of Arimathea and visited Glastonbury.  Blake doesn't say that these events happened, he only asks the question, and uses this story as the basis for his poem, the emphasis of which is on the here and now rather than on what may or may not have happened in the past.

In the Bible, Jerusalem, as well as being a real physical, historical city, also represents God's eventual dwelling place with man.  In the New Testament book of Revelation, the new Jerusalem comes down out of heaven to earth, representing the eventual union of heaven and earth in future paradise as God and man are finally able to dwell together in peace for eternity.  Blake's poem foreshadows this and sets it up as a goal to aim for - something all our energies, mental and physical, should be directed towards.

I don't believe we will ever achieve this goal on our own - ultimately I think only God can do this - but if we want to live in line with his purposes then I think this is a fairly good summary of what we should be aiming for - although not just for England of course!


  1. The music has always moved me and makes me feel proud to be 'British'. I have never associated it with a sense of Englishness. I am not convinced that we need an English national anthem as I see this as a move to the splitting on the union which I feel is still of great benefit to all.

    As to its content, I am no theologist, just an ordinary Christian. If I can't see it Jerusalems true meaning, will many others?

  2. >> I have never associated it with a sense of Englishness.

    But the song is all about England! That's the point of the last line!

    >> I am not convinced that we need an English national anthem as I see this as a move to the splitting on the union

    I grew up feeling instinctively that "English" and "British" meant pretty much the same thing - a concept which my Welsh wife finds quite offensive! She on the other hand, is deeply conscious of being Welsh AND British, but is also aware that these mean different things.

    I think a healthy sense of English identity - as long as it includes a deep respect for other nations and cultures - is probably a good thing. I'd suggest that in fact we owe this much to the Welsh and the Scots as I think it would help us towards a better appreciation of their respective national identities.

    Any Welsh or Scottish people care to comment?

    >> If I can't see Jerusalem's true meaning, will many others?

    Good question! Perhaps it depends on how many people post about it? ;-)

    I still think it's a pretty strange song, but I thought I'd try concentrating on it's good points! :-)

  3. I think England should have a national anthem. I've been trying to find out where else doesn't have one. Looking on Wikipedia (ah, the font of all knowledge...) there's a list of countries and their national anthems, but I can't *quite* be bothered to check off against a list of every country in the world! Wales and Scotland and N Ireland are down, but not England. I found another website that says that every country has one http://www.nationalanthems.info/faq.html#2.1 Even Europe and the United Nations have one each. Under England it has Land of Hope and Glory. Not all anthems are actually legally official, including the Welsh one, interestingly, although I don't think you'd get very far in Wales saying that! It's obviously not as simple as I first thought. That website also has bontempi organ renditions of anthems too - superb!

    I would like to concur with Dan's comments, as a Welsh person. I always think it's a bit weird that Englishness is seem quite negatively, to do with getting drunk at the football and the BNP (ironically, considering their name!). It does annoy me that so many English people see English and British as interchangeable descriptions. Grrr. My work colleague said, after the England defeat at the football, that we can all keep the flags ready for the Olympic games in London, but we compete as team GB, which is very much a Union Jack.

    I've always thought Jerusalem was a stupid song, and I always think of it as an English hymn. We never sang it in Church at home in Wales. I doubt the welsh WI sang it either!

    I do however like the ides of building a new Jerusalem in a kingdom-of-God type way in England, as it, and all other countries, need it. As in, bringing God's justice and peace and harmony to this land.


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