Friday, April 29, 2011

The worst hymn ever written?


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.


  1. I know, the words are terrible! But I have to say, I still love it. That music!!! We used to sing it at school. It does sound impressive.

  2. Yeah, but that makes it worse. Nationalism dressed up as christianity.

  3. Yeah, I know. I like it in the same way I like Jesus Christ Superstar. Awesome music, if only the lyrics were good!

  4. I think we should separate Blake (relation?) from the current use as a hymn. He was a more interesting (/nutty) guy and would probably have revolted at the British Fascist and other nationalist appropriations of this song. According to wikipedia, it was in the preface to 'Milton a poem', which is probably significant given how Milton hit the worlds of poetry, reformation and the government of england (he was quite the revolutionary firebrand.) I think its an appeal for a Really Christian nationalism in the face of a lot of oil and water piety and rapaciousness. I think its OK. And that tune is in Holst's the Planets isn't it? magic.

  5. I was so hoping that in that crowd of thousands, with the song played so ponderously, that somebody might find a moment of silence after the first line to answer loudly 'Um, no, actually.' It really would have made the whole day worthwhile!

  6. Certainly weird. If it didn't have a tune that hooked you, no-one would sing it.

  7. Yeah, I cringed a bit, but it's as much a part of those services as the fellow in the gold pointy hat.
    And I think I come to the garden alone/In The Garden has it covered as far as worst goes.

  8. My vote would be for "rise up O men of God",

    "... the Church for you doth wait,
    her strength unequal to her task;
    rise up and make her great".

    But there's probably plenty of others, and presumably Jerusalem wasn't really written as a hymn anyway.

    And Anthony, I don't think he's saying that Jesus' feet did walk in England, it's really irrelevant to his purposes whether they did or not, even in spite of the reference to the legend that they did. It reads more to me as a call for England to truly act as a Christian nation rather than just say that it is.

    But I wouldn't choose to sing it.

  9. The key is the irony in the lines "and was Jerusalem builded here/Among these dark satanic mills?" Curious how a revolutionary anthem gets turned into a nationalist song sung on royal occasions. It would be a bad hymn indeed if it was one, but its a great song.

  10. I haven't studied William Blake's poetry in any depth, but his poems and illustrations are certainly very weird and interesting. I think it is fairly safe to say that "Jerusalem" was not originally written as a hymn, and that Blake was certainly not the sort of person who wrote hymns!

    Interesting, though, in a church service last year we sang some different words to the tune used for Jerusalem; and it just didn't sound right.