The stanzas beginning, ‘And did those feet’ are among the most famous works written by the Romantic poet and artist, William Blake. Set to music by Hubert Parry in 1916 and renamed, ‘Jerusalem’, this hymn has become an emblem of Englishness in the past century, and is regularly invoked at sporting events, public and private ceremonies, and, of course, as part of Last Night of the Proms. Yet when Blake first engraved his lines in his epic work, Milton a Poem, he had been tried for sedition. Likewise, although Parry was commissioned to compose his music as part of the war effort by the organization Fight for Right, he soon removed permission for that group to perform his hymn and instead gave the copyright to the women’s suffrage movement.
‘Jerusalem’, then, is a much more contested vision of England’s green and pleasant land than is often assumed. This book traces the history of the poem and the music from Blake’s original verses, written in Felpham, via the turmoil of the First and Second World Wars, its recording history in the late twentieth century, and its use in political controversies such as the 2016 Brexit vote. An anthem for both the left and the right, Blake’s own vision of what it meant to build Jerusalem in England is both strange and familiar to many who invoke it. As such, this book explores the deep complexities of what Englishness means into the twenty-first century.
Introduction: Arrows of Desire
1:And Did Those Feet? Blake and Milton, 1800-1827
2:Our Clouded Hills: Before ‘Jerusalem’, 1827-1915
3:Mental Fight: Parry, the Great War and its Aftermath, 1916-1922
4:Dark Satanic Mills: Peace and War, 1923-1945
5:Bring Me My Bow: Empire’s End, 1945-1976
6:Chariot of Fire: Thatcher’s Britain and the End of the Cold War, 1977-1996
7:Green and Pleasant Land: From Blair to Brexit, 1997-2016
Jason Whittaker is Head of the School of English and Journalism at the University of Lincoln. He has written extensively on William Blake, specializing in the reception of Blake by later generations of artists, writers, and musicians. He is also co-editor of the series Pop Music, Culture and Identity.