A guest post from commenter Fabio Paolo Barbieri :
I am a great lover of marches, patriotic hymns, and national anthems. I can sing with equal pleasure and enthusiasm many of the old Communist songs and “Charlie is my Darling” or the Marseillaise or the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Any song that expresses a great enthusiasm for something felt to be good and noble, and a desire to march and fight together to achieve it, does something for me; even though I may, as with Communism or the Confederacy, disapprove of the cause that produced it.Nonetheless, there is one popular patriotic song that I like less and less, the more I hear it: Jerusalem by Blake and Parry. There is something about its spirit that repels me, and I think I know what it is. It is self-righteousness in its pure state. Think about what it says, and how it says it: “building Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land”. Not waiting for God’s purposes, not even presuming to collaborate with God or with Providence or with History or with Nature – no, we shall do it ourselves, in fact, I will do it Myself. That is the sacred element in this song: I. And pay attention to the music: not, like the Marseillaise, urgent and avenging; not, like the Battle Hymn of the Republic, marching in step with an overwhelming common vision; no, it is of a piece with the poetry – muscular, self-glorifying, overwhelmingly convinced of its own value. It is a music which proclaims to you that the eschatological renewal of the world, the New Morning, the Millennium, comes from – ourselves. As if anyone who made any modest and honest bit of self-examination could ever imagine that that lump of compromise, half-measures, confused aspirations to decency, poorly controlled lusts, and fierce selfishness, that is the personality of most of us, could be the agent and inspiration of a cosmic renewal!
Something for the weekend. Jerusalem sung the cadet glee club of West Point. I hadn’t realized this hymn was of such recent vintage. The lyrics come from that half-mad, half prophet British poet of the late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth centuries William Blake. It was in the bloody year for Britain of 1916 that Sir Hubert Parry wrote the music to produce the hymn that helped sustain the British in many a dark hour in the last century.
Mock on, mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau;
Mock on, mock on; ’tis all in vain!
You throw the sand against the wind,
And the wind blows it back again.
And every sand becomes a gem
Reflected in the beams divine;
Blown back they blind the mocking eye,
But still in Israel’s paths they shine.
The Atoms of Democritus
And Newton’s Particles of Light
Are sands upon the Red Sea shore,
Where Israel’s tents do shine so bright.