In London I went on my first hop-on-hop-off city bus tour. These are great for people who don’t have a lot of time to see all the historic or important landmarks in a place like London, where they are plentiful and somewhat widely dispersed. These buses have person audio guides that play background music reflective of the historical background/heritage of the particular country/area of operation. The background music for this tour consisted of historic christian (and, British) hymns.
I was reminded of the historical (and persisting) relationship between church and state that most Americans (and most other democracies for that matter) would probably wince at. You see, in England, the Anglican (or Episcopal) church is established by law as the national church. As a public institution, it provides marriages, baptisms, and other services to believing members and non-believers alike. The Supreme Governor of the Church of England is the English Sovereign, whose power is usually exercised through Parliament.
They played pieces such as Now Thank We All Our God and O God Our Help in Ages Past. I also heard Jerusalem/And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time (William Blake), which I kept hearing on TV commercials as well. The words of the hymn appear below. Even if you’re not “religiously affiliated,” it’s interesting to note, simply even for poetic analysis, the interesting nature of the hymn.
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.
Dripping with patriotic mysticism, this hymn must be one of the most rhetorical I’ve heard yet. With an answer to the first verse in the positive being highly implausible, Blake juxtaposed the fantastical with the metaphorically possible “arrows of desire,” and the idealized reality of England’s “green & pleasant land.” One feels obliged to see the whole thing not as an ode to an unreachable utopia of the future, but as a call to constant vigilance in the creation of idealized (but tenable) peace through mental and physical exertion in the present.
Besides the content, the hymn is truly a beauty to hear. I’ve included a link at the end of the post. Hear it here:
- Queen Church role backed in poll (bbc.co.uk)