If you have ever attended a traditional British church service or watched a movie set in that era, you must have come across the hymn “Jerusalem” or, as it is commonly referred to, “And did those feet in ancient times.” This iconic hymn has been sung for over 100 years and remains a favorite of many people today.
But what is the history behind the lyrics Let’s take a closer look.
William Blake – The Poet Behind the Words
The lyrics of “Jerusalem” were written by William Blake, an English poet, painter, and printmaker who lived from 1757 to 1827. Blake is best known for his poetry collections such as “Songs of Innocence,” “Songs of Experience,” and his epic poem “Milton.” He was also an accomplished artist and created many famous works such as “The Ancient of Days” and “The Tyger.”
The Inspiration for the Hymn
The inspiration for Blake’s poem came from a story in the Bible. According to legend, Jesus visited England during his lifetime and visited Glastonbury, where he planted his staff in the ground.
This staff grew into a tree that became known as the Holy Thorn. The legend goes on to say that Joseph of Arimathea traveled to Glastonbury after Jesus’ crucifixion and buried the Holy Grail there.
Blake used this legend as inspiration for his poem, which describes Jesus’ visit to England and asks if he walked on England’s green and pleasant land. The poem is not meant to be taken literally but rather as a metaphorical statement about England’s potential for spiritual renewal.
The music for “Jerusalem” was written by Sir Hubert Parry in 1916. Parry was an English composer and teacher who is best known for his choral works such as “I Was Glad” and “Blest Pair of Sirens.” He had been asked by the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies to compose music for Blake’s poem as part of their campaign for women’s rights.
“Jerusalem” has become an iconic hymn in England and is often referred to as the unofficial national anthem. It is regularly sung at sporting events, including rugby matches and the Last Night of the Proms, an annual concert series held in London. The hymn has also been covered by many famous artists, including the likes of Elvis Presley, Paul Robeson, and Kate Bush.
“Jerusalem” is a timeless hymn that continues to inspire people today. Its powerful words and stirring melody have made it a beloved part of British culture.
Whether you are religious or not, there is no denying the impact that this hymn has had on English society. So next time you hear those familiar words – “And did those feet in ancient times” – take a moment to reflect on the history behind them.