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Jerusalem (poem by William Blake)
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A beautiful poem written by William Blake in 1804 with music written by Sir Hubert Parry in 1916. It is today a hymn for England and it got very famous outside the UK when it became the theme song for the film "Chariots of Fire", performed by Vangelis, the title of which comes from a phrase in this poem: "Bring me my chariot of fire".

Don't forget to read the Song Meaning to understand what Blake is really talking about.

This video was made to commemorate St George's Day (23rd April), the patron saint of England, and in many churches all over the country this very song is sung. On this video we can see the English flag, which is simply the cross of Saint George: a red cross on a white field. The other flag that everybody knows, blue, red and white, is not the flag of England, but the British flag (also called the Union Jack).

Besides taking part in the movie "Chariots of Fire", there are many other movies which use this song, including Monty Python's Fying Circus,  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, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Circle and Shameless.

And did those feet in ancient times
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.

Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green & pleasant Land.


And did those feet in ancient times
Walk upon Englan[d's mountains green?]

THOSE FEET= Jesus' feet. We don't know it yet, but two lines later we see he is talking about "the Lamb of God", so it's Jesus.
The whole sentence has its order altered, since that creates a beautiful effect in poetry. The normal order would be:
- And did those feet walk on England's green mountains in ancient times?
In plain English this would mean:
- And did Jesus come to England centuries ago?

THE HOLY LAMB /læm/ OF GOD= Jesus.
In the New Testament Jesus is called "the Lamb of God" because he accepted his death as the only way to save us.  So he was compared to a lamb, an animal that was then offered to God in sacrifice. Since Jesus was sent by God, then He is God's lamb. Anyway, theology about this matter would take a long text to explain, so simply know that the Lamb of God is a reference to Jesus.
The correct order for this sentence would be:
- And was Jesus seen in England?

PLEASANT= /plezənt/ Nice and good, enjoyable.

PASTURES= /pæsə*z/ Green lands, especially when you consider them as food for farm animals. Since Jesus appears here under the image of a holy lamb, it's only appropriate to talk about pastures.

COUNTENANCE= (formal) Face.

DIVINE= Related to God.
The COUNTENANCE DIVINE = The face of God = Jesus. (the normal order would be "divine countenance"
According to Christians, Jesus is the incarnation of God. God is invisible, but Jesus was visible, so Jesus is the Face of God, the image of God that we can see.

FORTH= Forwards.
To SHINE FORTH means to send out rays of light, to shine vividly.

UPON= (old fashioned or literary) On.

BUILDED= (old fashioned or literary) Built (build-built-built).

SATANIC= Related or belonging to Satan. Satan is the incarnation of Evil and the symbol of bad things.

MILLS= A mill is a building that turns the power of wind or water into movement. They were used for grinding corn and making flour and for other things too. The first factories used the power of water to move the machinery (before steam machines were invented), so in the beginning, factories were usually called "mills", and he calls those factories "satanic mills" because in the beginning of the industrial revolution, for many years, factories kept workers (including women and children) in brutal conditions, almost as slaves (not too different form today's conditions in the factories of some countries we all know).

BOW= /bəʊ/ A weapon used for shooting arrows (see picture)

BURNING GOLD= Gold that shines a lot, so it looks like it's burning with flames.

ARROWS= Weapons (see picture)

DESIRE= The original pronunciation of this word is /dɪzaɪə*/, but the triphthong /aɪə/in modern British English is usually pronounced /ɑ:ə/ (and sometimes simply /ɑ:/), so this choir is pronouncing /dɪzɑ:ə/ and /fɑ:ə/ (fire).

SPEAR= A weapon (see picture)
All these weapons here are symbols for struggling. In no way they are a reference to physical fight but, as he says, "mental fight", that's why he talks of "bow of burning gold" and "arrows of desire". Blake was not a revolutionary, he was a mystic and an idealist.

O= (old-fashioned spelling) Oh!

CLOUDS UNFOLD= (imperative form) Clouds, separate so I can see the sky.

CHARIOT OF FIRE= This image comes from the story of the prophet Elijah (see picture) , who was taken to heaven on a chariot of fire. In English culture this became an image of the divine energy, the power coming from God.

CEASE= /si:s/ Stop.

SWORD= /sɔ:d/ a weapon (see picture).

NOR SHALL MY SWORD SLEEP= And my sword won't sleep either.
If we start a sentence with NOR we need an inversion. SHALL is an old-fashioned and emphatic equivalent for WILL, and it is also used to make a promise, so here, Blake is making a vow that he will never stop until he builds the New Jerusalem.

TILL= Until.

JERUSALEM= Jerusalem (more specifically "The New Jerusalem") is a biblical symbol for a society of love, peace and justice (an image taken from the Book of Revelation, the last book in the Bible)

This poem draws its symbolism from two Christian sources: An apocryphal legend and the Book of Revelation (also called The Apocalypse).

The legend says that Joseph of Arimathea, the rich man who donated his tomb for Jesus' burial, was Mary's uncle and a merchant. At that time, tin from Britannia's mines was very valuable and Joseph went to England to buy some, taking young Jesus with him. After Jesus' death he escaped from Palestine to avoid persecution and came back to the south of Britannia (modern England), to the city of Glastonbury. At that time Britannia was not part of the Roman Empire yet, so it was safe to hide there. In Glastonbury he founded the first Christian church and before he died, he buried there the cup that Jesus used in His Last Supper, the famous "holy grail", which is still there, well under Glastonbury's hill. So according to this legend, Jesus was in England before he started his ministry in Palestine and the first Christian church in the world was founded and built by Joseph of Arimathea in England when he came with the holy grial.

The other reference is about "the New Jerusalem", from the Book of Revelation. There it is said that one day Jesus will come back and defeat Satan once and for all, putting a stop to all the evil and suffering on earth. Then He will found the New Jerusalem, which is a symbol for a kingdom of peace, love and happiness, heaven on earth.

At the time William Blake wrote his poem, England was in the middle of the Industrial Revolution and he could see how people were enslaved to a new brutal way of production: a new economical system that ruined the landscape, polluted the air and the waters and treated people as mere cheap labour, including women and children. So for Blake, England was now the land of Satan, full of "dark satanic mills" (mill = factory).

But there was a time when England was not Satan's land: it was Jesus' land when He walked this land with Joseph of Arimathea. Blake, though, doesn't claim that the legend is true, but he likes to think that maybe it was true and Jesus (also called in the Bible "the Lamb of God") once might have walked this land:

And did those feet in ancient times
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 if Jesus was here, then for sure this land must have been heaven at that time, though now, looking at this industrial society, it's difficult to think so:

And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

But one thing is sure: England must become (maybe for the second time) the New Jerusalem, the kingdom of peace and happiness it should be. And that is something we all have to build, and he is ready to start the change:

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!

The Chariot of fire is a reference to the Old Testament (2 Kings 2:11), where the prophet Elijah is carried up to heaven by a chariot of fire. The clouds in the sky opened, the flaming chariot came down and carried him away. So what Blake says here is that he is ready to fight for this kingdom of justice (bow, arrows and a spear are all symbolical weapons here), and that kingdom he wants is a heavenly kingdom, a kingdom that will take people to heaven. Therefore, he cries for the clouds to unfold (to open up) so Elijah's chariot of fire will come down once again, like a stairway to heaven.

He knows it's not an easy job, but he won't give up till he succeeds. He wants to turn England into the New Jerusalem, and there he makes a contrast between "the dark satanic mills" of the industrial era and the beautiful green rolling hills that used to adorn England's beautiful landscape:

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.

So this poem is a call for action, to improve things, and he is volunteering to enrol in that change and make it possible.

© Angel Castaño 2008 Salamanca / Poole - free videos to learn real English online || InfoPrivacyTerms of useContactAbout
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