It's Time to Reclaim This Love Song for Us All

Article excerpt


MY FATHER'S death was not unexpected, but everything about it was a painful surprise. Arranging the funeral was not the catharsis I'd hoped it would be. And I admit to being disgracefully bad tempered when the organist argued that I should change the hymn with which I proposed to end the service.

The hymn I had selected was Jerusalem. It was the only one I wanted, not least because it was the only song - popular, patriotic or pious - that I had heard my father sing from start to finish.

He had told me that George V - long before I really knew who George V was - had once warned an orchestra at Buckingham Palace that if they did not play it, he would whistle it himself.

Of course, the orchestra played. So did the organist at my father's funeral.

And though I have sung the hymn many times since, it never loses its poignancy.

In moments of hope it has been an inspiration; at times of despair it has been a comfort.

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?

This week Jerusalem will take centre stage at two great national occasions.

On Thursday, England's cricket team will walk onto the Oval turf for their vital fifth Ashes Test against Australia to the sound of Jerusalem, as they have done at every match since 2003.

This time, captain Michael Vaughan is urging the entire nation to join in the singing at 10.25am to wish the team luck.

'The backing of the country is like having a 12th player on the field,' says Vaughan.

THEN on Saturday, the hymn will echo around the Albert Hall as part of the traditional climax to the Last Night Of The Proms. It is without doubt one of the most profoundly moving hymns ever written.

But even those who join in the rousing chorus at these two gatherings may not realise the remarkable story behind Jerusalem, or its role in our nation's history.

That will be remedied by a new BBC documentary to which I have contributed, which tells the full story behind the hymn and asks whether it should be formally adopted as England's anthem.

I had been invited to take part because Jerusalem was the anthem of my tribe - the Christian Socialist wing of the Labour Party.

We knew those opening lines had been inspired by the myth that the young Jesus had come to England with Joseph of Arimathea, a Venetian merchant. What mattered to us was the vow with which it ended.

I will not cease from mental fight Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand Till we have built Jerusalem In England's green and pleasant land.

William Blake was inspired to write those lines by chapter 21 of the New Testament Book Of Revelation.

St John the Divine 'saw a new Heaven and a new Earth descend like a bride adorned for her husband' and promised that God would 'wipe away all tears from our eyes and there will be no more weeping'. We thought of those words as symbolising the society we wanted to build.

But in the distant days when I first learned Jerusalem, I had no idea that people of very different political persuasions also laid claim to Jerusalem as their own.

I certainly did not know that Blake's words had been set to music during World War I in a campaign to remind the British people that they fought for justice and freedom.

In 1916, a movement with the evocative title Fight For Right was looking for a morally uplifting anthem to stiffen the nation's resolve to battle on. …