Monday, 4 June 2012


Over the Jubilee weekend it has been hard to avoid renditions of Jerusalem (And did those feet/in ancient time) - and I've heard it described on the radio as a jubilant anthem and a celebratory hymn. In fact only one of those key words loosely applies to this strangest of songs.

Let's take 'jubilant' and 'celebratory' first and give them a good kicking. It's nothing of the sort. It's a whinging NIMBY protest song. When William Blake wrote the poem, they were building a factory in sight of his house (from memory it was in in Chiswick, but don't quote me), and he didn't like it one bit. This was a rant about his view being ruined.

Then there's that word 'hymn'. You will admittedly find the song in both the UK's big traditional hymn books, the far superior English Hymnal and the uninspiring Ancient and Modern. But this is arguably a mistake. In structure it is more like an anthem - and it's certainly beyond most congregations to sing well. I've never heard anyone but a choir get the ending right, for example. But more importantly, it's not really very Christian. Apart from the protest song element, the main theme is a bizarre myth that has nothing to do with conventional religious beliefs.

So there we have it. Neither jubilant anthem nor celebratory hymn, but an ornate and tricky protest song.

If you aren't British and wonder what I'm droning on about, here it is in an appropriately regal setting:

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