The original text is found in the preface Blake wrote for inclusion with Milton, a Poem, following the lines beginning "The Stolen and Perverted Writings of Homer & Ovid: of Plato & Cicero, which all Men ought to contemn: ..."
Beneath the poem Blake inscribed a quotation from the Bible:
The phrase "dark Satanic Mills", which entered the English language from this poem, is often interpreted as referring to the early Industrial Revolution and its destruction of nature and human relationships.
This view has been linked to the fate of the Albion Flour Mills, which was the first major factory in London. Designed by John Rennie and Samuel Wyatt, it was built on land purchased by Wyatt in Southwark. This rotary steam-powered flour mill by Matthew Boulton and James Watt used grinding gears by Rennie to produce 6000 bushels of flour per week.
The factory could have driven independent traditional millers out of business, but it was destroyed in 1791 by fire, perhaps deliberately. London's independent millers celebrated with placards reading, "Success to the mills of Albion but no Albion Mills." Opponents referred to the factory as satanic, and accused its owners of adulterating flour and using cheap imports at the expense of British producers. A contemporary illustration of the fire shows a devil squatting on the building. The mills were a short distance from Blake's home.
Blake's phrase resonates with a wider theme in his works, what he envisioned as a physically and spiritually repressive ideology based on a quantified reality. Blake saw the cotton mills and collieries of the period as a mechanism for the enslavement of millions, but the concepts underpinning the works had a wider application:
And all the Arts of Life they changed into the Arts of Death in Albion./...
Another interpretation, amongst Nonconformists, is that the phrase refers to the established Church of England. This church preached a doctrine of conformity to the established social order and class system, in contrast to Blake. In 2007 the new Bishop of Durham, N. T. Wright, explicitly recognised this element of English subculture when he acknowledged this alternative view that the "dark satanic mills" refer to the "great churches". In similar vein, the critic F. W. Bateson noted how "the adoption by the Churches and women's organizations of this anti-clerical paean of free love is amusing evidence of the carelessness with which poetry is read".
Stonehenge and other megaliths are featured in Milton, suggesting they may relate to the oppressive power of priestcraft in general; as Peter Porter observed, many scholars argue that the "[mills] are churches and not the factories of the Industrial Revolution everyone else takes them for". An alternative theory is that Blake is referring to a mystical concept within his own mythology related to the ancient history of England. Satan's "mills" are referred to repeatedly in the main poem, and are first described in words which suggest neither industrialism nor ancient megaliths, but rather something more abstract: "the starry Mills of Satan/ Are built beneath the earth and waters of the Mundane Shell...To Mortals thy Mills seem everything, and the Harrow of Shaddai / A scheme of human conduct invisible and incomprehensible".
The line from the poem "Bring me my Chariot of fire!" draws on the story of 2 Kings 2:11, where the Old Testament prophet Elijah is taken directly to heaven: "And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven." The phrase has become a byword for divine energy, and inspired the title of the 1981 film Chariots of Fire. The plural phrase "chariots of fire" refers to 2 Kings 6:16–18.
Blake lived in London for most of his life, but wrote much of Milton while living in the village of Felpham in West Sussex. Amanda Gilroy argues that the poem is informed by Blake's "evident pleasure" in the Felpham countryside.
The phrase "green and pleasant land" has become a collocation for identifiably English landscape or society. It appears as a headline, title or sub-title in numerous articles and books. Sometimes it refers, whether with appreciation, nostalgia or critical analysis, to idyllic or enigmatic aspects of the English countryside. In other contexts it can suggest the perceived habits and aspirations of rural middle-class life. Sometimes it is used ironically, e.g. in the Dire Straits song "Iron Hand".
Several of Blake's poems and paintings express a notion of universal humanity: "As all men are alike (tho' infinitely various)". He retained an active interest in social and political events for all his life, but was often forced to resort to cloaking social idealism and political statements in Protestant mystical allegory. Even though the poem was written during the Napoleonic Wars, Blake was an outspoken supporter of the French Revolution, and Napoleon claimed to be continuing this revolution. The poem expressed his desire for radical change without overt sedition. (In 1803 Blake was charged at Chichester with high treason for having "uttered seditious and treasonable expressions", but was acquitted.) The poem is followed in the preface by a quotation from Numbers ch. 11, v. 29: "Would to God that all the Lords people were prophets." Christopher Rowland has argued that this includes
everyone in the task of speaking out about what they saw. Prophecy for Blake, however, was not a prediction of the end of the world, but telling the truth as best a person can about what he or she sees, fortified by insight and an "honest persuasion" that with personal struggle, things could be improved. A human being observes, is indignant and speaks out: it's a basic political maxim which is necessary for any age. Blake wanted to stir people from their intellectual slumbers, and the daily grind of their toil, to see that they were captivated in the grip of a culture which kept them thinking in ways which served the interests of the powerful.
The words of the poem "stress the importance of people taking responsibility for change and building a better society 'in Englands green and pleasant land.'"
The poem, which was little known during the century which followed its writing, was included in the patriotic anthology of verse The Spirit of Man, edited by the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom, Robert Bridges, and published in 1916, at a time when morale had begun to decline because of the high number of casualties in World War I and the perception that there was no end in sight.
Under these circumstances, Bridges, finding the poem an appropriate hymn text to "brace the spirit of the nation [to] accept with cheerfulness all the sacrifices necessary," asked Sir Hubert Parry to put it to music for a Fight for Right campaign meeting in London's Queen's Hall. Bridges asked Parry to supply "suitable, simple music to Blake's stanzas – music that an audience could take up and join in", and added that, if Parry could not do it himself, he might delegate the task to George Butterworth.
The poem's idealistic theme or subtext accounts for its popularity across much of the political spectrum. It was used as a campaign slogan by the Labour Party in the 1945 general election; Clement Attlee said they would build "a new Jerusalem". It has been sung at conferences of the Conservative Party, at the Glee Club of the British Liberal Assembly, the Labour Party and by the Liberal Democrats.
In adapting Blake's poem as a unison song, Parry deployed a two-stanza format, each taking up eight lines of Blake's original poem. He added a four-bar musical introduction to each verse and a coda, echoing melodic motifs of the song. The word "those" was substituted for "these" before "dark satanic mills".
The piece was to be conducted by Parry's former student Walford Davies, but Parry was initially reluctant to set the words, as he had doubts about the ultra-patriotism of Fight for Right, but not wanting to disappoint either Robert Bridges or Davies he agreed, writing it on 10 March 1916, and handing the manuscript to Davies with the comment, "Here's a tune for you, old chap. Do what you like with it." Davies later recalled,
We looked at [the manuscript] together in his room at the Royal College of Music, and I recall vividly his unwonted happiness over it ... He ceased to speak, and put his finger on the note D in the second stanza where the words 'O clouds unfold' break his rhythm. I do not think any word passed about it, yet he made it perfectly clear that this was the one note and one moment of the song which he treasured ...
Davies arranged for the vocal score to be published by Curwen in time for the concert at the Queen's Hall on 28 March and began rehearsing it. It was a success and was taken up generally.
But Parry began to have misgivings again about Fight for Right and eventually wrote to Sir Francis Younghusband withdrawing his support entirely in May 1917. There was even concern that the composer might withdraw the song, but the situation was saved by Millicent Fawcett of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). The song had been taken up by the Suffragettes in 1917 and Fawcett asked Parry if it might be used at a Suffrage Demonstration Concert on 13 March 1918. Parry was delighted and orchestrated the piece for the concert (it had originally been for voices and organ). After the concert, Fawcett asked the composer if it might become the Women Voters' Hymn. Parry wrote back,
I wish indeed it might become the Women Voters' Hymn, as you suggest. People seem to enjoy singing it. And having the vote ought to diffuse a good deal of joy. So they should combine happily."
Accordingly, he assigned the copyright to the NUWSS. When that organisation was wound up in 1928, Parry's executors reassigned the copyright to the Women's Institutes, where it remained until it entered the public domain in 1968.
The song was first called "And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time" and the early published scores have this title. The change to "Jerusalem" seems to have been made about the time of the 1918 Suffrage Demonstration Concert, perhaps when the orchestral score was published (Parry's manuscript of the orchestral score has the old title crossed out and "Jerusalem" inserted in a different hand). However, Parry always referred to it by its first title. He had originally intended the first verse to be sung by a solo female voice (this is marked in the score), but this is rare in contemporary performances. Sir Edward Elgar re-scored the work for very large orchestra in 1922 for use at the Leeds Festival. Elgar's orchestration has overshadowed Parry's own, primarily because it is the version usually used now for the Last Night of the Proms (though Sir Malcolm Sargent, who introduced it to that event in the 1950s, always used Parry's version).
During his folk-singing period, in 1965 Don Partridge recorded a solo version of the hymn with acoustic guitar accompaniment.
Although Parry composed the music as a unison song, many churches have adopted "Jerusalem"; English cathedrals, churches and chapels frequently use it as an office or recessional hymn on St George's Day.
However, some clergy in the Church of England, according to the BBC TV programme Jerusalem: An Anthem for England, have said that the song is not technically a hymn as it is not a prayer to God (which they claim hymns always are, though many counter-examples appear in any hymnal). Consequently, it is not sung in some churches in England. Despite this, it was sung as a hymn during the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton in Westminster Abbey.
Many schools use the song, especially public schools in Great Britain (it was used as the title music for the BBC's 1979 series 'Public School' at Radley College), and several private schools in Australia, New Zealand, New England and Canada. "Jerusalem" was chosen as the opening hymn for the London Olympics 2012, although "God Save the Queen" was the anthem sung during the raising of the flag in salute to the Queen. Some attempts have also been made to increase its use elsewhere with other words, examples include the State Funeral of President Ronald Reagan in Washington National Cathedral on 11 June 2004 and the State Memorial Service for Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam AC QC on 5 November 2014.
Upon hearing the orchestral version for the first time, King George V said that he preferred "Jerusalem" over the British national anthem "God Save the King". "Jerusalem" is considered to be England's most popular patriotic song; The New York Times said it was "fast becoming an alternative national anthem," and there have even been calls to give it official status. England has no official anthem and uses the British national anthem "God Save the Queen", also unofficial, for some national occasions, such as before English international football matches. However, some sports, including rugby league, use "Jerusalem" as the English anthem. "Jerusalem" is the official hymn of the England and Wales Cricket Board, although "God Save the Queen" was the anthem sung before England's games in 2010 ICC World Twenty20 and 2010–11 Ashes series. Questions in Parliament have not clarified the situation, as answers from the relevant minister say that since there is no official national anthem, each sport must make its own decision.
As Parliament has not clarified the situation, Team England, the English Commonwealth team, held a public poll in 2010 to decide which anthem should be played at medal ceremonies to celebrate an English win at the Commonwealth Games. "Jerusalem" was selected by 52% of voters over "Land of Hope and Glory" (used since 1930) and "God Save the Queen". The lyrics' explicit focus on England, without mention of other parts of the United Kingdom, renders the song unfitting as a national anthem for the entire UK.
In 2005 BBC Four produced Jerusalem: An Anthem For England highlighting the usages of the song/poem and a case was made for its adoption as the national anthem of England. Varied contributions come from Howard Goodall, Billy Bragg, Gary Bushell, Lord Hattersley, Ann Widdecombe and David Mellor, war proponents, war opponents, suffragettes, trade unionists, public schoolboys, the Conservatives, the Labour Party, football supporters, the British National Party, the Women's Institute, a gay choir, a gospel choir, Fat Les and naturists.
In 1973, for their Brain Salad Surgery album, British progressive rock band Emerson, Lake & Palmer recorded a version of the song titled "Jerusalem". The track features the debut of the prototype Moog Apollo, the first-ever polyphonic music synthesizer. The subject matter of this song indicates a nod to ELP's unabashed Englishness and simultaneously lent an air of timeless tradition and ceremony to the music. Though a single was released of the song, it failed to chart, and it was banned from radio play in England. The BBC would not accept it as a serious piece of music, the band claims. Drummer Carl Palmer later expressed disappointment over this decision.
We wanted to put it out as a single ... We figured it was worthy of a single. In England, they have this format where four or five people have to [approve it] before it gets played on the airwaves; it's a very old-fashioned way of doing it, but that's the way it was being done at the time. I think there was some apprehension [as] to whether or not we should be playing a hymn and bastardizing it, as they said, or whatever was being called at the time ... We thought we'd done it spot-on, and I thought that was very sad because I've got a jukebox at home, and that's a piece of music that I've got on the jukebox, so I actually thought the recording and just the general performances from all of us were absolutely wonderful. I couldn't believe the small-mindedness of the English ... committee to vote these things onto the radio or off the radio. They ... obviously didn't even listen to this. It got banned and there was sort of quite a big thing about it, these people just would not play it. They said no, it was a hymn, and we had taken it the wrong way.
A live rendition was recorded during their subsequent Someone Get Me a Ladder tour, and was included on Welcome Back, My Friends, to the Show That Never Ends... Ladies and Gentlemen, Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
The popularity of Parry's setting has resulted in many hundreds of recordings being made, too numerous to list, of both traditional choral performances and new interpretations by popular music artists. Consequently, only its most notable performances are listed below.It is sung every year by an audience of thousands at the end of the Last Night of the Proms in the Royal Albert Hall and simultaneously in the Proms in the Park venues throughout the country.
Along with "The Red Flag", it is sung each year at the closing of the annual Labour Party conference.
The song was used by the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (indeed it was their property until 1928, when they were wound up after women won the right to vote – see above in relation to Millicent Garret Fawcett). During the 1920s, many Women's Institutes (WI) started closing meetings by singing it, and this caught on nationally. Although it has never actually been adopted as the WI's official anthem, in practice it holds that position, and is an enduring element of the public image of the WI.
The extended version of dance group the KLF's hit single "It's Grim Up North" incorporates Parry's setting of the poem.
It is traditionally sung before rugby league's Challenge Cup Final, along with "Abide with Me", and before the Super League Grand Final, where it is introduced as "the rugby league anthem". Before 2008, it was the anthem used by the national side, as "God Save the Queen" was used by the Great Britain team: since the Lions were superseded by England, "God Save the Queen" has replaced "Jerusalem".
The Waterboys have incorporated verses into live performances of "Savage Earth Heart".
Since 2004, it has been the anthem of the England cricket team, being played before each day of their home test matches.
A recording by the Grimethorpe Colliery Band was played in medal ceremonies when an English competitor at the 2010 Commonwealth Games was awarded gold.
It was one of three "hymns" sung at the wedding of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, and Catherine Middleton.
At a concert at the Royal Albert Hall on 4 July 2009, Jeff Beck performed a version featuring his touring band at the time (Vinnie Colaiuta, Tal Wilkenfeld and Jason Rebello) and a guest appearance by David Gilmour.
While performing at Glastonbury in June 2011, U2's Bono incorporated one of the verses into their songs "Where The Streets Have No Name" and "Bad". Whilst being interviewed after the gig, he said it was a tribute to Glastonbury's historical significance.
It was used in the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics held in London and inspired several of the opening show segments directed by Danny Boyle. It was included in the ceremony's soundtrack album, Isles of Wonder.
An a cappella version by Jacob Collier was selected for Beats by Dre "The Game Starts Here" for the England Rugby World Cup campaign.
"Bring me my Chariot of fire" inspired the title of the film Chariots of Fire. A church congregation sings "Jerusalem" at the close of the film and a performance appears on the Chariots of Fire soundtrack performed by the Ambrosian Singers overlaid partly by a composition by Vangelis. One unexpected touch is that "Jerusalem" is sung in four-part harmony, as if it were truly a hymn. This is not authentic: Parry's composition was a unison song (that is, all voices sing the tune – perhaps one of the things that make it so "singable" by massed crowds) and he never provided any harmonisation other than the accompaniment for organ (or orchestra). Neither does it appear in any standard hymn book in a guise other than Parry's own, so it may have been harmonised specially for the film. The film's working title was "Running" until Colin Welland saw a television programme, Songs of Praise, featuring the hymn and decided to change the title.
The hymn has featured in many other films and television programmes including Four Weddings and a Funeral, How to Get Ahead in Advertising, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, Calendar Girls, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Goodnight Mr. Tom, Women in Love, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Shameless, and Monty Python's Flying Circus. An extract was heard in the 2013 Doctor Who episode "The Crimson Horror" although that story was set in 1893, i.e., before Parry's arrangement. A punk version is heard in Derek Jarman's 1977 film Jubilee. In an episode of Peep Show, Jez (Robert Webb) records a track titled "This Is Outrageous" which uses the first and a version of the second line in a verse.
In the theatre it appears in Jerusalem, Calendar Girls and in Time and the Conways. Eddie Izzard discusses the hymn in his 2000 Circle stand-up tour. Punk band Bad Religion have borrowed the opening line of Blake's poem in their "God Song", from the 1990 album Against the Grain.
Blake's lyrics have also been set to music by other composers without reference to Parry's melody. Tim Blake (synthesiser player of Gong) produced a solo album in 1978 called Blake's New Jerusalem, including a 20-minute track with lyrics from Blake's poem. The words, with some variations, are used in the track "Jerusalem" on Bruce Dickinson's album The Chemical Wedding, which also includes lines from book two of Milton. Finn Coren also created a different musical setting for the poem on his album The Blake Project: Spring. The Verve also referenced the song in their 2008 song Love Is Noise from the album Forth. Lead singer and writer Richard Ashcroft said that Blake had influenced the lyric 'Will those feet in modern times' from the song. This is not the first Verve song influenced by Blake, as their previous single History also featured the lyrics "I wandered lonely streets/Behind where the old Thames does flow/And in every face I meet", referencing Blake's "London".