Did you know that one of the most beloved Christmas carols, “The Holly and the Ivy,” has a lesser-known but equally beautiful companion piece? This carol is called “Jerusalem” or “And Did Those Feet in Ancient Times.” It’s a hymn that has become synonymous with English patriotism and pride.
The Origins of the Hymn
“And Did Those Feet in Ancient Times” was written by William Blake in 1804. Blake was an English poet, painter, and printmaker who was known for his radical views and unconventional approach to art. The hymn was originally part of a preface to his epic poem “Milton,” which was published in 1808.
The poem is based on the apocryphal story that Jesus visited England as a young man, where he lived and taught for many years. The hymn asks if this story is true and if Jesus walked on England’s “green and pleasant land.”
The Meaning Behind the Lyrics
The lyrics of “And Did Those Feet in Ancient Times” are rich with symbolism and meaning. The first stanza asks if Jesus did indeed walk on England’s hills and valleys, and it expresses a desire to see Jerusalem brought to England. This is not a literal request, but rather a call for England to be transformed into a place where God’s presence can be felt.
The second stanza speaks of building a new Jerusalem “in England’s green and pleasant land.” This line has become synonymous with English patriotism, as it expresses a desire for England to be seen as God’s chosen land.
The third stanza speaks of fighting against the forces of evil, which are represented by Satan’s arrows. It calls for a spiritual battle against these forces, using love as our weapon.
The music for “And Did Those Feet in Ancient Times” was not written by William Blake. Instead, it was adapted from a hymn tune called “Jerusalem,” which was composed by Hubert Parry in 1916. The tune was originally written for a patriotic poem by William Blake’s contemporary, Robert Bridges.
Parry’s melody perfectly captures the spirit of Blake’s lyrics, with its soaring melody and triumphant harmonies. It has become one of the most famous and beloved hymns in English-speaking countries.
The Legacy of the Hymn
“And Did Those Feet in Ancient Times” has become an iconic hymn that is closely associated with English patriotism and national pride. It has been sung at many important events, including the Last Night of the Proms and the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.
The hymn has also inspired many other works of art, including paintings, sculptures, and even films. It remains a testament to William Blake’s unique vision and his ability to capture deep spiritual truths in his poetry.
In conclusion, “And Did Those Feet in Ancient Times” is a beautiful hymn that speaks to our desire for spiritual transformation and our hope for a better world. Its powerful lyrics and stirring music have made it an enduring part of English culture, and it continues to inspire people around the world today.