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And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands 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 Englands green & pleasant Land.

William Blake

Corinna Laughlin's commentary

William Blake has been called the greatest artist England ever produced. He was an extraordinary figure—a genius in the visual arts as well as one of England’s greatest poets. Born in 1757, he had a vision of God at the age of four, and saw a tree full of angels. These early spiritual experiences shaped him for life. He was profoundly Christian, but also deeply eccentric, to the point that he was considered mad by many of his contemporaries.
Blake was a craftsman, an engraver by trade. At night, he worked on his own projects, in which image and text are married as they never had been before. Blake never achieved much commercial success. His works are not only utterly unconventional; they can also be quite cryptic. And he was extremely opinionated, which probably did not help: “To generalize is to be an idiot,” is one of his famous statements. Only long after his death, well into the twentieth century, did Blake come into his own as one of the great Romantic voices. “And did those feet,” which we just heard, has become an unofficial anthem of England, and was even heard at the royal wedding of Kate and William.
Blake’s poem is at one level very simple. Blake imagines a time when Christ himself, the Lamb of God, walked the “mountains green” and the “clouded hills” of England, now marred by “dark Satanic Mills.” It is a poem of resolve, as the speaker decides to fight with every weapon at his command until England is the new Jerusalem, “green & pleasant” again.
In this poem, as with all things Blake, there is more than meets the eye. Blake’s poem is rich in literary allusions.  Blake is drawing on a Grail legend, the stories of King Arthur. As the story goes, when a young boy, Jesus traveled with his uncle, Joseph of Arimathea (the figure mentioned in the Gospel as giving his new tomb for Christ to be buried). They came all the way to England, to Glastonbury, to be specific.. After the death and Resurrection of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea is said to have returned to England to become the first to preach the Gospel to the English. Blake is playing on that legend. Notice how it’s all in the form of a question—“did those feet,” “was the Lamb,” “did the Countenance.” He knows it’s legend, but that doesn’t take away the amazement of Christ’s presence right in his own world, in his own surroundings. “Was Jerusalem builded here / Among these dark Satanic Mills” Blake asks.  When Blake wrote this poem (about 1804) the kind of mills we associate with England’s industrial revolution did not yet exist, but they were on their way. For Blake, the mill stands in for any rigid, dehumanizing, and evil influence. In contrast, Christ is associated with the natural world – light and green, and with all that is “pleasant.” The word sounds banal to us, but it is a word that speaks of relationship to humanity.  (Notice the word is used twice in this short poem).
Blake is also deeply versed in the Bible, and that comes through here. The poem recalls the language of the prophets. Blake refers to Christ as “the holy Lamb of God,” a title for Jesus especially associated with St. John the Baptist, who pointed out Jesus as “Lamb of God” and who also ended up dead for speaking truth to power. 
The third and fourth stanzas of the poem recall Old Testament prophets, particularly Elijah. In the second Book of Kings, Elijah asks Elisha what he wants from him. And Elisha answers that he wants “a double portion of your spirit.” In other words, he wants to be twice the prophet Elijah was! And the prayer is granted. Elijah is taken to heaven in “a fiery chariot and fiery horses,” and young Elisha takes up the prophet’s mantle. Here Blake is playing Elisha—taking up the prophetic task. The last stanza recalls the book of the prophet Nehemiah, and the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem.
It seems appropriate to read this poem right after Pentecost. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came to rest on all the disciples in wind and flame. In our Christian tradition, the Spirit dwells within every member of the baptized. We are all called to be prophets. Where are the prophetic voices of our own time? And what are the “dark Satanic mills” in our day that need to be broken so that our own land can be “green and pleasant” once again, revealed as the very dwelling place of the Lamb of God? 




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