There's been some discussion over the last few weeks about whether England, as distinct from 'Britan', needs its own national anthem. 'Jerusalem' has, of course, been proposed. Not everyone thinks it's a good idea. Over on The Spectator blog Kate Maltby insists that 'there’s nothing patriotic about William Blake’s Jerusalem'. As to that assertion, I think it depends upon what patria one has in mind. I agree there's nothing public-school, white-posh-English patriotic about the poem; but it seems to me an intensely patriotic text, addressed to a version of England too little acknowledged. I should concede that my judgement is not wholly objective, here, since this work is one of the very few in the whole corpus of poetry to send actual shivers up the nape of my neck when I read it. Would it make a good English anthem? Maybe, maybe not. Still, my real beef with that Spectator article concerns this statement:
The truth about Jerusalem is that it isn’t a patriotic poem at all. Parry’s music gives the hymn an upbeat tempo – especially with the booming orchestration by Edward Elgar – but William Blake’s original words are as laced with resentful irony as Shostakovich’s Leningrad symphony. Famously, Blake asks four questions in succession, and the answer to each is a resounding no. Christ’s feet never trod in England; the Lamb of God didn’t gambol – preposterous as the image is – around the Cotswolds; the Holy Spirit wasn’t regularly spotted in London fog; and most directly of all, there was no sense of Jerusalem in the dark Satanic mills of the Industrial Age.This is not right, I think. The answer to these four questions, in the logic of the poem, is not "no". The answer is "not yet". If you can't see that that makes all the difference, then you really haven't understood the poem at all.