MPs have given initial support to the idea of England adopting an official national anthem.
God Save the Queen, the national anthem for the UK as a whole, is currently used for England during most sporting events.
However, Chesterfield MP Toby Perkins believes England needs its own anthem and presented his case in the House of Commons as a ten minute rule motion.
His English National Anthem Bill was adopted by the House.
The idea will be debated again at a second reading on 4 March.
The bill would bestow a responsibility on the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to hold a consultation across the UK, and Mr Perkins suggested there could even be an “X Factor style programme” to select a song.
And did those feet in ancient time
“And did those feet in ancient time” is a short poem by William Blake from the preface to his epic Milton a Poem, one of a collection of writings known as the Prophetic Books. The date of 1804 on the title page is probably when the plates were begun, but the poem was printed c. 1808. Today it is best known as the anthem “Jerusalem“, with music written by Sir Hubert Parry in 1916. It is not to be confused with another poem, much longer and larger in scope, but also by Blake, called Jerusalem The Emanation of the Giant Albion.
The poem was inspired by the apocryphal story that a young Jesus, accompanied by Joseph of Arimathea, a tin merchant, travelled to what is now England and visited Glastonbury during his unknown years. The poem’s theme is linked to the Book of Revelation (3:12 and 21:2) describing a Second Coming, wherein Jesus establishes a New Jerusalem. The Christian church in general, and the English Church in particular, has long used Jerusalem as a metaphor for Heaven, a place of universal love and peace.
In the most common interpretation of the poem, Blake implies that a visit by Jesus would briefly create heaven in England, in contrast to the “dark Satanic Mills” of the Industrial Revolution. Blake’s poem asks four questions rather than asserting the historical truth of Christ’s visit. Thus the poem merely implies that there may, or may not, have been a divine visit, when there was briefly heaven in England.
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: …”
“Dark Satanic Mills”
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 quantifiable 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”.
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”.
“Chariot of fire”
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.
“Green and pleasant Land”
Blake lived in London for most of his life, but wrote much of Milton while living in the village of Felpham in 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 Lord’s people were prophets.” Christopher Rowland, a Professor of Theology at Oxford University, 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.'”
England national anthem: 10 alternative suggestions
Unimpressed with the idea of Jerusalem becoming England’s national anthem? Here are 10 leftfield alternatives, courtesy of our readers
With reference to the political parties I propose: