Jerusalem

From the book "Lead, Kindly Light"  (Reproduced with kind permission of ‘This England’ magazine)

William Blake (1757 – 1827)

An engraver and printer as well as an artist and writer, Blake thought he had a mission, which was to help build in England a new order of society based on love. This he called “Jerusalem”.

He felt he must expose those things that were wrong, such as child labour, poverty, and meagre wages paid to workers. The only way to do this was to make men aware of spiritual values instead of thinking mainly of material gain. “I have a doctrine to preach,” he writes. “I cease not from my great task, to open the immortal eyes of man inward to the eternal worlds.”

The way Blake performed his mission was by his writings and paintings. The subjects of his great works are such topics as justice, tyranny and war. “Milton” took him four years to write and contains the hymn “Jerusalem” (1804) in the preface. He declared that he wrote from dictation by heavenly powers, saying: “I am under the direction of Messengers from Heaven, daily and nightly.”

Although he is now regarded as having been a great and uniquely imaginative Englishman and the author of such supreme poems as “Tiger! Tiger! Burning bright”, an extraordinary event in William Blake’s life occurred in 1803 when a drunken soldier accused him of treason. Blake was living in Rose Cottage at Felpham in Sussex, a pastoral hamlet close to Bognor Regis, which had suffered periodic scares associated with the Napoleonic wars. The poet, so the soldier claimed, had warned local people that once the French landed in the town everyone would either have to join them or have their throats cut.

This obviously trumped-up charge was dismissed after Blake had been brought to trial at Chichester, but the scars it created were to remain with him for many years and prompted him to leave the lovely but troubled Sussex coast.

Most of Blake’s remaining life was spent in London and it was a sad departure from the picturesque cottage with its “glorious view of the far-stretching sea”. He had lived there with his wife Catherine for three happy years and it was beneath the tidy thatched roof that he conceived and started to write his beautiful “Jerusalem” hymn.

William Blake died on the 12th August, 1827, after some years of increasing ill-health. He had always looked forward to death and said: “The grave is Heaven’s golden gate.” At the time he and Catherine were living in a few shabby rooms in a poor area of London. Catherine adored Blake and he, in turn, called her “The sweet shadow of my delight”. She once said: “I have very little of Mr. Blake’s company. He is always in Paradise.” George Richmond, a close friend of the family described Blake’s death: "He died on Sunday night at six o’clock in a most glorious manner. He said he was going to that country he had all his life wished to see… Just before he died his countenance became fair, his eyes brightened and he burst out singing of the things he saw in Heaven."

"And did those feet in ancient time, Walk upon England’s mountains green?“

The Somerset tradition is that Joseph of Arimathea was the Virgin Mary’s uncle, that he was a trader who traveled to Britain to buy tin from Cornwall and lead from Somerset, and that on one or more of these voyages he brought the young Jesus with him.