Academic journal article The Hymn

William Blake, Hubert Parry, and the Singing of "Jerusalem"

Academic journal article The Hymn

William Blake, Hubert Parry, and the Singing of "Jerusalem"

Article excerpt

And did those feet in ancient timey

Walk upon Englands mountains green:

And was the holy Lamb of God,

On Englands pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Diviney

Shine forth upon our clouded hills?

And was Jerusalem builded herey

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 Fighty

Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:

Till we have built Jerusalem,

In Englands green & pleasant Land.1

A Adding Hymn?

In a less than flattering article written immediately after the music for the marriage service of Prince William and Catherine Middleton in Westminster Abbey had been announced, the Catholic journalist Damián Thompson commented that "Parry is by a long chalk the upper classes' favourite wedding composer, even if they've never heard of him. That's not because he wrote ? was glad,' splendid though it is, but because he composed the tune to 'Jerusalem.'"2 While somewhat cynical, Thompson's account is accurate: Parry's "Jerusalem" is one of the most popular wedding hymns, although it is not possible to know, as Thompson suggested with journalistic licence, whether this is restricted to the so-called "Sloanes"3 of the upper-class Chelsea set, among whom can be included the royal family. The choice of Parry's setting of "Jerusalem" for the royal wedding produced a fair amount of blogging, some of it critical for the song's supposed patriotic fervour and its failure to understand the implications of Blake's radicalism,4 but most of it fully in support of such a rousing hymn.5 "Jerusalem" is a hymn that has provoked some strong emotions ever since it was first written, and some have even tried to suppress it.

Banning "Jerusalem"

In the spring of 2008, the dean of Southwark Cathedral, Colin Slee, is reported to have intervened to prevent the singing of Sir Hubert Parry's setting of William Blake's "Jerusalem" at a private memorial service in his cathedral. A spokesperson commented: "The Dean of Southwark does not believe that it is to the glory of God and it is not therefore used in private memorial services."6 This is not the only time that the hymn had been banned in recent history. Seven years earlier a bride cancelled her wedding in Cheadle, near Stockport in Greater Manchester, when the director of music, Martyn Barrow, and the rector, Donald Allister, both objected to the singing of the song/ The rector commented that the hymn was "too nationalistic." "I enjoy it as a mystical poem," he went on, "but it is not a prayer and it is not about God. Nor is it addressed to God, and nor does it contain any of the themes you would expect of God." Outlining his objections, he continued:

people tended to interpret the poem in the nationalistic sense that England is best. . . . What most people actually want is Hubert Parry's tune, so we sometimes suggest other hymns to the same music. Indeed, Martyn [the director of music] has himself written a hymn on marriage and God's love to the tune of Jerusalem.

Victoria Williams, the bride, who also wanted Sir Cecil Spring Rice and Gustav Hoist's "I vow to thee, my country," was exasperated by the decision: "I could not believe it," she remarked. "To me they are two extremely well-known church hymns which have been around for years." Voicing his displeasure, her father described the ban as "disgusting." He went on:

Victoria has liked Jerusalem since she was a child and watched it on television being sung at the Last Night of the Proms. She really wanted it at her wedding. It was, after all, her big day - not the rector's. The whole family is upset.8

What these incidents reveal is that singing a two-stanza poem about Jerusalem can arouse very strong passions in clergy and laity alike. …

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