Thursday 22 January 2015

Jerusalem might save our politics from stagnation

Displaying Jerusalem.jpgNot content with saving pubs from monopolistic pubcos, Leeds Lib Dem MP Greg Mulholland seems to have done more than most to make Jerusalem the English national anthem, with a series of early day motions in Parliament.

It is now used by English cricketers and footballers as they dash out onto the pitch.  So it is maybe time that people learned a little more about what the song means, and the story of its words and music.

Luckily, I've written about it.  My ebook Jerusalem is published today at £1.99, and it tells the whole story - its call to spiritual struggle by Blake, its adoption by the Fight for Right movement in the First World War and as a suffragist anthem not long afterwards.

'Jerusalem’ has become one of the best-known poems in the English language, transformed into a soaring anthem with music by Sir Hubert Parry. It is sung by socialists and conservatives alike, by patriots and feminists and dreamers, partly because the words are obscure enough to satisfy everybody, and partly because the tune is stirring enough to have emerged as an alternative national anthem.

As England painfully seeks its own identity, apart from that of the other nations which make up the British Isles, ‘Jerusalem’ now looks set to take up the position as something rather more official.
As it stands, it wears its radicalism and spirituality lightly. It is at the same time a condemnation of all the degradation of the industrial revolution, the ‘dark satanic mills’ – the meaning of which remain a little obscure – and a clue to Blake’s very personal mythology and radical spiritual message. It is a call to personal struggle to transform England into the paradise it was somehow called to be.

I'm fascinated by this partly because, at every stage in its creation, Jerusalem has been a call for spiritual struggle.  It still is that.

And partly because, the transformation of a pastoral to an industrial England is at the very heart of our identity - as the Olympics opening ceremony showed in 2012.  

It is also an opportunity, because those themes - the demolition of dark satanic mills - are systematically excised from the themes of modern English politics.  It maybe that our national redemption depends on articulating them clearly again.

No comments: