“Jerusalem” (from Milton)
William Blake
1804

Known by many as a hymn and contender for an unofficial anthem of the United Kingdom, William Blake’s short poem is actually an excerpt from a preface to one of his greatest works, the epic Milton.

Based upon the mythology of a young Jesus’ visit to Glastonbury, England, the lines of “Jerusalem” prophecy the second coming, the return of Christ to construct the kingdom of God, “the new Jerusalem”, here on earth. But the mystic and spiritualist Blake was equally a fierce revolutionary, and the poem leaves no doubt that the “new Jerusalem” imagined stands in contrast to the “satanic mills” of industrial capitalism. Mind, imagination, the sword are all called upon in the struggle to build heaven on earth – not only with the return of the saviour, but here, now, everyday.

It is dismaying that Jerusalem has become a hymn to patriotism, an anthem of England, an institutional song of an institutional church. Certainly this was not Blake’s intent – Blake the madman, Blake the sensualist, Blake the revolutionary, Blake the condemner of slavery, the proponent of free love, the theologian of humankind’s divinity and God’s humanity.

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