Music Monday: “Jerusalem” by William Blake

One of the reasons I enjoy being a teacher is that, in ways large and small, I can make a positive difference in the lives of others — just as many of my own teachers have done for me. Today’s Music Monday investigates this idea.

For me, one teacher — Professor Eloise Hay — who I only knew briefly in 1996 during my last class at UCSB made an impact on me, though I wasn’t initially aware of her influence when it happened. (I was too concerned with graduating).

William BlakeIt was in this class — English 40, English Literature 1800 to 1900 — that I was first introduced, at least academically, to William Blake.  Since then I have always felt an emotional and creative connection with Blake, and his imaginative interpretation of humanity.

My interest in Blake inspired me to launch “WilliamBlake.com – Cybersongs of Innocence.” While it has not yet evolved into the resource I envisioned, I hope to eventually expand it into a user-created Wiki (as time and resources allow).

Why I mention this is that it was on this date  — April 30, 1996 — that Professor Hay died of inoperable brain cancer. Although I only had her for that one class, and never knew her beyond the 12 weeks of my last quarter at UCSB, I remain grateful for the opportunity to have learned about such a wonderful craftsman of creativity as William Blake.

One of Blake’s more famous works is a short poem titled “And did those feet in ancient time”  which can be found in the preface to his epic 1804 work Milton a Poem, one of his collection of Prophetic Books. Today this short piece is more commonly known as the anthem “Jerusalem” — for which, in 1916, Hubert Parry wrote the music to accompany Blake’s words.

The theme of the poem is that, during his lost years, Jesus travelled to (what is now) England and visited Glastonbury. The song is a popular English anthem and is performed at various events each year — including the April 29, 2011 wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton (another coincidence and reason why I share this song on this date).

Although I am not religious, I appreciate the works of Blake and find the song based on his poem inspiring and uplifting. There are many versions of it available online, but I selected a more modern version of it as performed by the English rock group Emerson, Lake & Palmer below:

For reference, the text of Blake’s poem follows:

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.