When were you called to sacrifice your life to serve others? Was it when you were so ecstatically happy to be among everyone in some kind of a group? Were you singing? Did you find your bliss in a rough sea in a boat trying to get to harbor in a hurry? Were you sharing in a struggle to overcome injustice, war, racism?
For some Christians, Jerusalem was a symbol to mean the building of a new heaven on earth. Service to others. Renewal. Destroying the old ineffective societal structures of oppression and injustice. Creating peace to replace constant competition and war. Was that what William Blake intended when he wrote his poem in 1804 as a preface to a greater work, titled now, “And did those feet In Ancient Times”? Here is the poem.
And did those feet in ancient times/ Walk upon England’s mountain’s green?/ And was the holy lamb of God/ On Endland’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 and pleasant land.
Different social movements thought that the poem had different meanings: Nonconformists thought that the Satanic mills were the church of England which taxed everyone and exploited property rights. Anti-monopolists who owned small mills thought that the satanic mills represented the large, new factories which put the small mills out of business. Other religionists apparently viewed the satanic mills as a symbol of man’s evil impulses and of dark forces, the unseen evils.
Social theorists want to focus on the societal systems of oppression and violence, including the unconstitutional, illegal secret police and intelligence systems which thwart change by suppressing dissent, and which harrass reformers through surveillance and by other means. Historians discuss Blake’s sympathy for the plight of the French people and his support for the French revolution, and for positive social change. Blake was charged with sedition for his sympathies, but never convicted.
I first heard Parry’s (composer) version of this poem put to music (as Jerusalem) when I was 11 years old. I didn’t know what it meant then. I was one voice in a choir in a church. Being part of a choir was a good introduction to working within a group. Mostly about conforming and getting along with others, I guess. Here is a link to a symphonic rendering of Jerusalem: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B5lzxpQY6-0
The second time I heard this song was as an older youth: The song was used as a part of the music for the movie, “The loneliness of the long-distance Runner.” The movie was about the grinding poverty in post-war England and about the struggles of youth and the defiance of one young man whom the system wanted to turn into a criminal for the crime of needing money and of being poor. We did not know it then but we were seeing the beginning of the decline of Western industries, as the work was given to other countries where labor could be had for pennies compared to our wages. Austerity was kicking in and poverty was increasing despite the lies of politicians. In one great scene in the movie, the youth turn the TV sound off and make up fake speeches for the politicians shown on the TV. They ape their lies and their “fakeness.” His father had been killed at work and his mother had been given a small death benefit and basically they were supposed to eat dirt to survive. I recall liking the youth’s defiance of the authority figures (the guard labor) and to hold him up when I think about the courage needed to tell the lying thieving politicians that we won’t enlist to fight in their resource wars for empire which they lie to us and call ‘fights for democracy’. After being caught for stealing some money, the lad is sent to a reform school where he excells at running, and he has an opportunity to express his feelings about being exploited even in the misery of this incarceration. Those were the Vietnam years. In retrospect, I think we could have known that the present storm was coming forty years ago.
What does service mean? Do we really want to support war?
When Parry composed his music to Blake’s words, he was responding to a request to write some boosterism music to cheer up the WWI soldiers in 1916. If ever there was a capitalist war without any benefit to the 99.9%, WWI was that war. Parry regretted his decision. Later he gave the music to the women’s movement so that they could use it to rally their troops to fight for the Right To Vote.
Later, in 1982, the American Methodists (Carl P. Daw, Jr.) added new lyrics to a song using Parry’s melody for “Jerusalem”, to create a new song, “O Day Of Peace That Dimly Shines.” Now this is a peace song using a melody written to create a rousing war song from a peace poem written by a poet in 1804! What would Blake think about that???
As recently as 2010, I recall seeing American flags and portraits of soldiers in the entranceways to these churches. What a bunch of Christian phonies: “….our warring world shall see Christ’s promised reign of peace.” (from the 1982 lyrics) It sends only one message: that in America, the only way for young men to receive praise in their spiritual communities, is to serve Mars, the God of War.
We cannot wait for the second coming of Christ to stop the wars. We cannot allow ourselves to be entranced by those who think that humans do not themselves have the capacity to end all of the wars without divine intervention. I stand with William Blake in asserting that it is our job to make a society which is fair, economically and socially. It is our job to distribute the 100 trillion dollars of American wealth fairly so that no one has to go hungry. So that no one has to live homeless. So that everyone can have a decent and meaningful job. It is up to us to make these changes. Even Blake knew that:….“I will not cease from mental fight/Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand./…”
Updated, Monday, May 4th, 2015: The time for talking and intellectualizing appears to be running out.
Chris Hedges, “Make the Rich Panic.” Unable to link, maybe you can copy the data below:
We need jobs programs for the unemployed, food programs for the hungry (beyond SNAP), medical programs for those who in spite of illusioncare, have no access to medical care, free education for college students, debt relief for those with student loans, housing for the homeless, and we need these things NOW, not in some imagined future. If everyone in the services refused to serve until societal changes were made, would it work? What if police refused to harrass poor people telling their masters, we refuse to jail people for problems you keep creating, it is insane, and we won’t do it anymore.
Updated;93 Million Working-Age Americans Are Out Of Work.