Sunday, August 26, 2007

Preface from Milton: a Poem by William Blake

Preface from Milton: a Poem

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the Holy Lamb of God
On England’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.
--William Blake

This poem by William Blake has been set to music, and is quite popular in England, almost gaining status as a second National Anthem. Though the song, sung on the Last Night of the Proms and many other occasions, is called Jerusalem, it's inaccurate to say that this poem is Jerusalem by William Blake. Evidently, he wrote another poem which he titled Jerusalem. It's an epic length poem with illustrations that he drew and printed himself (one of which is today's picture). The poem posted here is a piece of the preface to his long poem about Milton.

I can't think of anything to write today, except that we don't have to be in England to continue the fight to build up God's kingdom where we are. Maybe Mom, who is especially fond of this song, has something to add.


  1. Where would I even begin? Maybe by mentioning, first, that I liked the image in "The Lighthouse" of it being a fire by night and a cloud by day. very nice. Sorry about liking metaphor and simile.
    Some of the newer members of the family may not know that Heather learned and sang this poem/song for her Oberlin Chorister's trip to England. If you have not heard the song, it is BEST sung by a really good children's choir. I cried EVERY time I heard them sing it (I was a member of the board and a chaperone on the trip). Imagine being in York - most of the city 1000 years old, some sites 2000 years old - and you actually begin to believe Jesus COULD have walked there, on those actual streets. Certainly, the light and sound and spirit of York Minster is ethereal : it will make a great temple someday.
    Misc. notes on the poem:

    1. I was surprised to find that England HAS mountains and they really are green.

    2. I have personal emnity for the "dark Satanic mills" since hearing stories about my own grandpa Holt and his family who had to work in those awful mills. My Dad thinks that one reason his dad came to America was because he watched an uncle get 'transportation' to Australia. Someone on his shift at a cotton mill deliberately poured acid on some bales of cloth in a labor dispute, so they 'transported' the entire shift. No trials, just exile. A good country to leave in those days.

    3. And the final two stanzas : well, you need to know that "Chariots of Fire" - that great running film Chariots_of_Fire - gets it's title from this poem: they sing the song in the film. And while in Oxford, Heather and I walked past a memorial to Eric Liddell on our way to Iffley Road Track where Roger Bannister ran the mile in 3 min 59.4 s in 1954. Heather ran on that track that day. So that's another reason I love this poem.

    4. Have I mentioned that I think the figure 'on' a white horse in Rev. 6 and 19 is actually the Lord driving his chariot (pulled by a white horse) : his chariot is the cloud (Ps 104) or is fire - picture Jehovah in his chariot stopping pharaoh and his chariot at the sea (Ex 15), the chariot he sent down for Elijah (2 kings 2), the chariot he used to pick up Exekiel and take him to Jerusalem and back (Ez 1 and 10). He has taken back his bow (the 'rainbow' : he hung it up at the time of Noah as a promise to NOT kill everyone again) from the heavens - hence the rainbow will not be seen at the end of the world - and is coming to avenge the deaths of the righteous - no covenant of peace with the wicked, you see. So he rides forth, out of the temple - for the chariot is parked there, in the Holy of Holies ( it is the ark of the covenant: remember the ark was carried at the front of the army into war: that was Jehovah riding in his chariot at the head of his hosts). He is dressed all in armor - the whole armor of God - and has the two-edged sword in his right hand to cut off all who have not kept their covenants Isaiah 66:15-16. Yeah, I REALLY like metaphor.

    5. I think it is so sad that within decades of Byron writing this, 50,000 converts to Mormonism had to LEAVE England in order to try to build that new Jerusalem: but God is not done with England yet. Two temples are there to hasten the conversion of the people : the Land is ready and waiting for the Seed.

    Now aren't you sorry you asked me to write the commentary? Thanks, tho. That was fun.

  2. I think Tolkein must have been using imagery from this poem in the scouring of the shire and other places.

  3. Thanks Mom, that was just what I was looking for. BTW, it was Blake that wrote this poem, not Byron. Byron wrote the Destruction of Sennacherib.

  4. yes you are right: I'm reading 'Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel' and Byron is a character in it. Sorry
    BTW, were you aware that Susanna Clarke has also written a selection of short stories about these same characters - and in the same semi-academic style - called "The Ladies of Grace Adieu."

  5. Mom, thanks for the rhyming couplet:
    "Now aren't you sorry you asked me to write the commentary? Thanks, tho. That was fun.

    Now aren't you sorry you asked me to write the commentary? Thanks, tho. That was fun."
    I thought the meter and repetition were particularly effective at expressing your point. :P
    I agree with Karen, though: that's just the sort of thing we expected and would have been sorry to hear anything less.

    (Karen's note: I edited Mom's email before posting it here as a comment -- she really did repeat that last line before going on to some news unrelated to poetry)