And did those feet in ancient time

And did those feet in ancient time

"And did those feet in ancient time" is a short poem by William Blake from the preface to his epic Milton a Poem, one of a collection of writings known as the Prophetic Books. The date on the title page of 1804 for Milton is probably when the plates were begun, but the poem was printed c. 1808.[1] Today it is best known as the anthem "Jerusalem", with music written by Sir Hubert Parry in 1916.

The poem was inspired by the apocryphal story that a young Jesus, accompanied by his uncle Joseph of Arimathea, travelled to the area that is now England and visited Glastonbury.[2] The legend is linked to an idea in the Book of Revelation (3:12 and 21:2) describing a Second Coming, wherein Jesus establishes a new Jerusalem. The Christian church in general, and the English Church in particular, used Jerusalem as a metaphor for Heaven, a place of universal love and peace.[3]

In the most common interpretation of the poem, Blake implies that a visit of Jesus would briefly create heaven in England, in contrast to the "dark Satanic Mills" of the Industrial Revolution. Analysts note that Blake asks four questions rather than asserting the historical truth of Christ's visit; According to this view, the poem says that there may, or may not, have been a divine visit, when there was briefly heaven in England. But that was then; now, we are faced with the challenge of creating such a country once again.[4][5]



The original text is found on the preface Blake printed for inclusion with Milton, a Poem, following the lines beginning "The Stolen and Perverted Writings of Homer & Ovid: of Plato & Cicero, which all Men ought to contemn: ..."[6]

The preface to Milton, as it appeared in Blake's own illuminated version.

Blake's poem

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 & pleasant Land

Beneath this poem Blake inscribed an excerpt from the Bible: '"Would to God that all the Lord's people were Prophets" Numbers XI.Ch 29.v.'[6] (Book of Numbers 11:29).[7]

Dark Satanic Mills

Albion Flour Mills.

The term "dark Satanic Mills", which entered the English language from this poem, is often interpreted as referring to the early Industrial Revolution and its destruction of nature and human relationships.[8] This view has been linked to the fate of the Albion Flour Mills, which was the first major factory in London, designed by John Rennie and Samuel Wyatt and built on land purchased by Wyatt in Southwark. This was a rotary steam-powered flour mill by Matthew Boulton and James Watt, with grinding gears by Rennie,[9] producing 6,000 bushels of flour a week. The factory could have driven independent traditional millers out of business, but it was destroyed, perhaps deliberately, by fire in 1791. London's independent millers celebrated with placards reading, "Success to the mills of ALBION but no Albion Mills."[2] Opponents referred to the factory as satanic, and accused its owners of adulterating flour and using cheap imports at the expense of British producers. An illustration of the fire published at the time shows a devil squatting on the building.[10] The mills were a short distance from Blake's home.

Blake's phrase resonates with a wider theme in his works, what he envisioned as a physically and spiritually repressive ideology based on a quantifiable reality. Blake saw the cotton mills and collieries of the period as a mechanism for the enslavement of millions, but the concepts underpinning the works had a wider application:[11][12]

"And all the Arts of Life they changed into the Arts of Death in Albion./...[13] "
Jerusalem Chapter 3. William Blake

Another interpretation, amongst Non-Conformists, is that the phrase refers to the established Church of England. As a part of the establishment, the Church preached a doctrine of conforming to the social order, in contrast to Blake. In 2007 the new Bishop of Durham, N. T. Wright, explicitly recognised this element of English subculture when he acknowledged this alternative view that the "dark satanic mills" refers to the "great churches[14]

The first reference to Satan's "mills", next to images of megaliths

An alternative theory is that Blake is referring to a mystical concept within his own mythology related to the ancient history of England. Satan's "mills" are referred to repeatedly in the main poem, and are first described in words which suggest neither industrialism nor ancient megaliths, but rather something more abstract: "the starry Mills of Satan/ Are built beneath the earth and waters of the Mundane Shell...To Mortals thy Mills seem everything, and the Harrow of Shaddai / A scheme of human conduct invisible and incomprehensible".[15] Stonehenge and other megaliths are featured in Milton, suggesting they may related to the oppressive power of priestcraft in general; as Peter Porter observed, many scholars argue that the "mills" "are churches and not the factories of the Industrial Revolution everyone else takes them for".[16]

Chariot of fire

The line from the poem, "Bring me my Chariot of fire!" draws on the story of 2 Kings 2:11, where the Old Testament prophet Elijah is taken directly to heaven: "And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven." The phrase has become a byword for divine energy, and inspired the title of the 1981 film, Chariots of Fire.

Green and pleasant Land

Blake lived in London for most of his life, but wrote much of Milton when he was living in the village of Felpham in Sussex. Amanda Gilroy argues that the poem is informed by Blake's "evident pleasure" in the Felpham countryside.[17]

The phrase "green and pleasant land" has become a collocation for identifiably English landscape or society. It appears as a headline, title or sub-title in numerous articles and books. Sometimes it refers, whether with appreciation, nostalgia or critical analysis, to idyllic or enigmatic aspects of the English countryside.[18] In other contexts it can suggest the perceived habits and aspirations of rural middle-class life.[19] Sometimes it is used ironically.[20]


Several of Blake's poems and paintings express a notion of universal humanity: "As all men are alike (tho' infinitely various)". He retained an active interest in social and political events for all his life, but was often forced to resort to cloaking social idealism and political statements in Protestant mystical allegory. Even though the poem was written during the Napoleonic Wars, Blake was an outspoken supporter of the French Revolution, whose successor Napoleon claimed to be.[clarification needed][21] The poem expressed his desire for radical change without overt sedition. (In 1803 Blake was charged at Chichester with high treason for having 'uttered seditious and treasonable expressions', but was acquitted.[22]) The poem is followed in the preface by a quotation from Numbers ch. 11, v. 29: "Would to God that all the Lord's people were prophets." Christopher Rowland, a Professor of Theology at Oxford University, has argued that this includes

everyone in the task of speaking out about what they saw. Prophecy for Blake, however, was not a prediction of the end of the world, but telling the truth as best a person can about what he or she sees, fortified by insight and an "honest persuasion" that with personal struggle, things could be improved. A human being observes, is indignant and speaks out: it's a basic political maxim which is necessary for any age. Blake wanted to stir people from their intellectual slumbers, and the daily grind of their toil, to see that they were captivated in the grip of a culture which kept them thinking in ways which served the interests of the powerful.[23]

The words of the poem "stress the importance of people taking responsibility for change and building a better society 'in England's green and pleasant land.'"[23]


The poem, which was little known during the century which followed its writing,[24] was included in the patriotic anthology of verse The Spirit of Man, edited by Great Britain's Poet Laureate, Robert Bridges, and published in 1916, at a time when morale had begun to decline because of the high number of casualties in World War I and the perception that there was no end in sight.[25]

Under these circumstances, Bridges, finding the poem an appropriate hymn text to "brace the spirit of the nation [to] accept with cheerfulnes all the sacrifices necessary,"[26] asked Sir Hubert Parry to put it to music for a Fight for Right campaign meeting in London's Queen's Hall. (The aims of this organisation were "to brace the spirit of the nation, that the people of Great Britain, knowing that they are fighting for the best interests of humanity, may refuse any temptation, however insidious, to conclude a premature peace, and may accept with cheerfulness all the sacrifices necessary to bring the war to a satisfactory conclusion".)[27] Bridges asked Parry to supply "suitable, simple music to Blake's stanzas - music that an audience could take up and join in", and added that, if Parry could not do it himself, he might delegate the task to George Butterworth.[28]

The poem's idealistic theme or subtext accounts for its popularity across the philosophical spectrum. It was used as a campaign slogan by the Labour Party in the 1945 general election; Clement Attlee said they would build "a new Jerusalem".[29] It has been sung at conferences of the British Conservative Party, at the Glee Club of the British Liberal Assembly, the British Labour Party and by the British Liberal Democrats.

Parry's setting of "Jerusalem"

In adapting Blake's poem as a unison song, Parry deployed a two-stanza format, each taking up eight lines of Blake's original poem. He also provided a four-bar musical introduction to each verse and a coda, echoing melodic motifs of the song. (The song is always performed with these 'extra' passages.) And the word "those" was substituted for "these" (before "dark satanic mills".)

The piece was to be conducted by Parry's former student Walford Davies, but Parry was initially reluctant to set the words as he had doubts about the ultra-patriotism of Fight for Right, but not wanting to disappoint either Robert Bridges or Davies he agreed, writing it on 10 March 1916, and handing the manuscript to Davies with the comment, "Here's a tune for you, old chap. Do what you like with it ".[30] Davies later recalled,

"We looked at [the manuscript] together in his room at the Royal College of Music, and I recall vividly his unwonted happiness over it...He ceased to speak, and put his finger on the note D in the second stanza where the words 'O clouds unfold' break his rhythm. I do not think any word passed about it. yet he made it perfectly clear that this was the one note and one moment of the song which he treasured..."[31]:

Davies arranged for the vocal score to be published by Curwen in time for the concert at the Queen's Hall on 28 March and began rehearsing it.[27] It was a success and was taken up generally.

But Parry began to have misgivings again about Fight for Right and eventually wrote to Sir Francis Younghusband withdrawing his support entirely in May 1917. There was even concern that the composer might withdraw the song, but the situation was saved by Millicent Garrett Fawcett of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). The song had been taken up by the Suffragettes in 1917 and Millicent Fawcett asked Parry if it might be used at a Suffrage Demonstration Concert on 13 March 1918. Parry was delighted and orchestrated the piece for the concert (it had originally been for voices and organ). After the concert, Millicent Fawcett asked the composer if it might become the Women Voters' Hymn. Parry was delighted. He wrote back,

"I wish indeed it might become the Women Voters' Hymn, as you suggest. People seem to enjoy singing it. And having the vote ought to diffuse a good deal of joy. So they should combine happily".[31]:

Accordingly, he assigned the copyright to the NUWSS. When that organisation was wound up in 1928, Parry's executors re-assigned the copyright to the Women's Institutes, where it remained until it entered the public domain in 1968.[31]

The song was first called "And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time" and the early published scores have this title. The change to 'Jerusalem' seems to have been made about the time of the 1918 Suffrage Demonstration Concert, perhaps when the orchestral score was published (Parry's manuscript of the orchestral score has the old title crossed out and 'Jerusalem' inserted in a different hand).[32] However, Parry always referred to it by its first title. He had originally intended the first verse to be sung by a solo female voice (this is marked in the score), but this is rare in contemporary performances. Sir Edward Elgar re-scored the work for very large orchestra in 1922 for use at the Leeds Festival.[33] Elgar admired the song and would no doubt be disheartened to realise that his orchestration has overshadowed Parry's own, primarily because it is the version usually used now for the Last Night of the Proms (though, Sir Malcolm Sargent, who introduced it to that event in the 1950s always used Parry's version).

Upon hearing the orchestral version for the first time, King George V said that he preferred "Jerusalem" over "God Save the King", the National Anthem, and Jerusalem is considered to be England's most popular patriotic song; The New York Times said it was "Fast becoming an alternative national anthem,"[34] and there have even been calls to give it official status.[35] England has no official anthem and so uses the British National Anthem "God Save the Queen", also an unofficial anthem, for some national occasions, such as before English international football matches. However, some sports, including rugby league use "Jerusalem" as the English anthem. Jerusalem is the ECB's official hymn,[36] although God Save the Queen was the anthem sung before England's games in 2010 ICC World Twenty20 and 2010–11 Ashes series. Questions in Parliament have not clarified the situation, as answers from the relevant minister say that since there is no official national anthem, each sport must make its own decision.

As Parliament has not clarified the situation, Team England, the English Commonwealth team held a public poll in 2010 to decide which anthem should be played at medal ceremonies to celebrate an English win at the Commonwealth Games. Jerusalem was selected by 52% of voters over Land of Hope and Glory (used since 1930) and God Save the Queen.[37]

Use as a hymn

Although the music was composed as a unison song, "Jerusalem" has been adopted by the Church and is frequently sung as an office or recessional hymn in English cathedrals, churches and chapels on St George's Day. It is also sung in some churches on Jerusalem Sunday, a day set aside to celebrate the holy city, in Anglican Churches throughout the world and even in some Episcopal Churches in the US.

However, some vicars in the Church of England, according to the BBC TV programme "Jerusalem: An Anthem for England", have said that the song is not technically a hymn, as it is not a prayer to God (which they claim hymns always are, though many counter-examples may be found in any hymnal). Consequently, it is not sung in some churches in England.[38]

Parry's tune is so well liked that the song is sung not only in many schools, especially public schools in Great Britain (it was used as the title music for the BBC's 1979 series 'Public School' at Radley College), but also at several private schools in Australia, New England and Canada. Some attempts have also been made to increase its use elsewhere with other words. The Church of Scotland debated altering the words of the hymn to read "Albion" instead of England to make it more locally relevant.[citation needed] A widely published alternative hymn text for the tune is Carl P. Daw's O day of peace that dimly shines of 1982.


The popularity of Parry's setting has resulted in many hundreds of recordings being made, too numerous to list, of both traditional choral performances and new interpretations by popular music artists. Consequently only its most notable performances are listed below.

  • It is sung every year by an audience of thousands at the end of the Last Night of the Proms in the Royal Albert Hall and simultaneously in the Proms in the Park venues throughout the country.
  • Each year it, along with The Red Flag, is sung at the closing of the annual Labour Party conference.
  • The song was used by the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (indeed it was their property until 1928, when they were wound up after women won the right to vote – see above in relation to Millicent Garret Fawcett).[39] During the 1920s, many Women's Institutes (WI) started closing meetings by singing it, and this caught on nationally. Although it has never actually been adopted as the WI's official anthem, in practice it holds that position, and is an enduring element of the public image of the WI.[40]
  • Since 2004, it has been the anthem of the England cricket team, being played before each day of their home test matches, and is regularly sung by rugby union crowds.
  • It was one of three hymns sung at the Wedding of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, and Catherine Middleton.[43]
  • At a concert at the Royal Albert Hall on July 4th, 2009, Jeff Beck performed a version featuring his touring band at the time (Vinnie Colaiuta, Tal Wilkenfeld and Jason Rebello) and a guest appearance by David Gilmour.

Use in film and theatre

"Bring me my chariot of fire" inspired the title of the film Chariots of Fire.[44] A church congregation sings "Jerusalem" at the close of the film and a performance appears on the Chariots of Fire soundtrack performed by the Ambrosian Singers overlaid partly by a composition by Vangelis. One unexpected touch is that Jerusalem is sung in four-part harmony, as if it were truly a hymn. This is not authentic: Parry's composition was a unison song (that is, all voices sing the tune – perhaps one of the things that make it so 'singable' by massed crowds) and he never provided any harmonisation other than the accompaniment for organ (or orchestra). Neither does it appear in any standard hymn book in a guise other than Parry's own, so it may have been harmonised specially for the film. The film's working title was "Running" until Colin Welland saw a TV programme, Songs of Praise, featuring the hymn and decided to change the title.[44]

The hymn has featured in many other films and TV programmes including Four Weddings and a Funeral, How to Get Ahead in Advertising,The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, Calendar Girls, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Goodnight Mr. Tom, Peep Show, Women in Love (1969 film), The Man Who Fell to Earth, Circle (2000 Eddie Izzard stand-up tour), Shameless, and Monty Python's Flying Circus. A punk version is heard in Derek Jarman's 1977 film Jubilee. In the theatre it appears in Jerusalem,[34] Calendar Girls and in Time and the Conways.[34] Punk band Bad Religion have borrowed the opening line of Blake's poem in their song "God Song", from the 1990 album Against the Grain. In 2005 BBC Four produced Jerusalem - An Anthem For England highlighting the various usages of the song/poem and a convincing & sentimental case was made for its adoption as the national anthem of England. Varied contributions come from Howard Goodall, Billy Bragg, Gary Bushell, Lord Hattersley, Ann Widdecombe and David Mellor, war proponents, war opponents, suffragettes, trade unionists, public schoolboys, the Tories, New Labour, football supporters, the British National Party (BNP), the Women's Institute, a gay choir, a gospel choir, Fat Les and naturists.[45][46]

Other composers

Blake's lyrics have also been set to music by other composers without reference to Parry's melody. The words, with some variations, are used in the track Jerusalem on Bruce Dickinson's album The Chemical Wedding, which also includes lines from book two of Milton. Finn Coren also created a different musical setting for the poem on his album The Blake Project: Spring.

See also

External links


  1. ^ Cox, Michael, editor, The Concise Oxford Chronology of English Literature, "1808", p 289, Oxford University Press, 2004, ISBN 0-19-860634-6
  2. ^ a b ICONS – a portrait of England. Icon: Jerusalem (hymn) Feature: And did those feet? Accessed 7 August 2008
  3. ^ The hymn 'Jerusalem the Golden with milk and honey blessed... I know not oh I know not what joys await me there....' uses Jerusalem for the same metaphor.
  4. ^ "''The One Show''". BBC. 17 October 2008. Retrieved 29 April 2011. 
  5. ^ John Walsh The Independent 18 May 1996
  6. ^ a b "The William Blake Archive". Milton a Poem, copy B, object 2 (Bentley 2, Erdman 1 [i], Keynes 2) "Milton a Poem". Transcription of original. Retrieved 1 March 2010. 
  7. ^ "Numbers 11:29". King James Version. 
  8. ^ Lienhard, John H. 1999 Poets in the Industrial Revolution. The Engines of Our Ingenuity No. 1413: (Revised transcription)
  9. ^ Walk This Way from Retrieved 7 January 2011
  10. ^ Brian Maidment, Reading Popular Prints, 1790–1870, Manchester University Press, 2001, p.40
  11. ^ Alfred Kazin: Introduction to a volume of Blake. 1946
  12. ^ Hall, Ernest (8 February 1996). "In Defense of Genius". Annual Lecture to the Arts Council of England. 21st Century Learning Initiative. Retrieved 19 September 2009. [dead link]
  13. ^ Incipit of citation given in Hall, 1996: "And all the Arts of Life they changed into the Arts of Death in Albion. The hour-glass contemned because its simple workmanship Was like the workmanship of the Plowman and the water-wheel That raises water into cisterns, broken and burned with fire Because its workmanship was like the workmanship of the shepherd; And in their stead intricate wheels invented, wheel without wheel To perplex youth in their outgoings and to bind to labours in Albion."
  14. ^ N. T. Wright, Bishop of Durham. 23 June 2007 "Where Shall Wisdom be Found?" 175th anniversary of the founding of the University of Durham
  15. ^ Blake, William, Milton: A Poem, plate 4.
  16. ^ Peter Porter, The English Poets: from Chaucer to Edward Thomas, Secker and Warburg, 1974, p.198., quoted in Shivashankar Mishra, The Rise of William Blake, Mittal Publications, 1995, p.184.
  17. ^ Gilroy, Amanda (2004). Green and Pleasant Land: English Culture and the Romantic Countryside. Peeters Publishers. p. 66. 
  18. ^ "Eric Ravilious: Green and Pleasant Land," by Tom Lubbock, The Independent, 13 July 2010. Retrieved 7 January 2011
  19. ^ "This green and pleasant land," by Tim Adams, The Observer, 10 April 2005. Retrieved 7 January 2011
  20. ^ "Green and pleasant land?" by Jeremy Paxman, The Guardian, 6 March 2007. Retrieved 7 January 2011
  21. ^ William Blake Spartacus Educational ( – Accessed 7 August 2008
  22. ^ "William Blake (1757–1827)". Retrieved 7 August 2008. 
  23. ^ a b Rowland, C. 2007 William Blake: a visionary for our time
  24. ^ Carroll, James (2011). Jerusalem, Jerusalem: How the Ancient City Ignited Our Modern World. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 236. ISBN 9780547195612. 
  25. ^ Bridges, Robert, ed (January 1916). "Index". The Spirit of Man: An Anthology in English & French from the Philosophers & Poets (First ed.). Longmans, Green & Co.. p. 335. Retrieved September 10, 2012. 
  26. ^ Carroll, James (2011). Jerusalem, Jerusalem: How the Ancient City Ignited Our Modern World. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 235. ISBN 9780547195612. 
  27. ^ a b Christopher Wiltshire (Former archivist, British Federation of Festivals for Music, Speech and Dance), Guardian newspaper 8 December 2000 Letters: Tune into Jerusalem's fighting history The Guardian 8 December 2000.
  28. ^ C. L.Graves, Hubert Parry, Macmillan 1926, p. 92
  29. ^ "Link to PBS script quoting Attlee in 1945 – Accessed 2008-08-07". 24 October 1929. Retrieved 29 April 2011. 
  30. ^ Benoliel, Bernard, Parry Before Jerusalem, Ashgate, Aldershot, 1997
  31. ^ a b c Dibble, Jeremy, C. Hubert H. Parry: His life and music, Oxford University Press, 1992
  32. ^ The manuscripts of the song with organ and with orchestra, and of Elgar's orchestration, are in the library of the Royal College of Music, London
  33. ^ ICONS – a portrait of England. Icon: Jerusalem (hymn) Sir Hubert Parry, Jerusalem and Elgar's orchestration.
  34. ^ a b c Brantley, Ben (20 July 2009). "Time, and the Green and Pleasant Land". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 April 2010. 
  35. ^ Parliamentary Early Day Motion 2791, UK Parliament, 18 October 2006
  36. ^ "Correspondence". UK: Anthem 4 England. 8 May 2007. Retrieved 29 April 2011. 
  37. ^ Sir Andrew Foster (30 May 2010). "England announce victory anthem for Delhi chosen by the public! – Commonwealth Games England". Weare England. Retrieved 29 April 2011. 
  38. ^ Borland, Sophie (10 April 2008). "Cathedral bans popular hymn Jerusalem". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 11 April 2008. 
  39. ^ "Link to SongFacts – Accessed 2008-08-07". Retrieved 29 April 2011. 
  40. ^ The "Jam and Jerusalem" caricature of the WI is still current enough that they have a FAQ about it on their site at [1]
  41. ^ Nation has chosen anthem for England's medallists: And did those feet in Ancient times walk upon England’s mountains green....., Commonwealth Games England, May/June 2010,, retrieved 13 Oct 2010, "Now we can reveal that the anthem has been recorded for us by The Grimethorpe Colliery Band...The new official anthem of the England Team will be played for English athletes on the podium in Delhi when a Gold medal is won." 
  42. ^ Turnbull, Simon (2 Oct 2010), "The Paralympian taking on able-bodied athletes", The Independent (London),, retrieved 13 Oct 2010 
  43. ^ "Music for the Wedding Service". Official Royal Wedding 2011 (Blog). 28 April 2011. Retrieved 28 April 2011. 
  44. ^ a b IMDB trivia – Origin of title – Accessed 11 Aug 2008
  45. ^ "Jerusalem: An Anthem for England (TV 2005)". IMDB. Retrieved September 27, 2011. 
  46. ^ Sam Wollaston (September 9, 2005). "Get me to the clink on time". The Guardian. Retrieved September 28, 2011. 

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