What are the lyrics to the hymn ‘Jerusalem’ and who composed it?

7 September 2023, 16:19 | Updated: 18 September 2023, 16:25

Jerusalem, from St Paul's Cathedral in London

Classic FM

By Classic FM

‘Jerusalem’ takes its words from a poem by William Blake and is often put forward as an alternative English national anthem. Here’s a look at its history, and lyrics.

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‘Jerusalem’ is a beautiful hymn by choral trailblazer Sir Hubert Parry, and a favourite for England’s national anthem.

‘And did those feet in ancient time’ – also the hymn’s first line, and alternate title – is a poem written by William Blake around 1808. Taken from the preface to his great work Milton: A Poem in Two Books, the poem was inspired by the legend that Jesus might have travelled, with Joseph of Arimathea, to England – to Glastonbury, in Somerset.

According to its most common interpretation, Blake’s poem suggests that a visit from Jesus will create heaven in England, in contrast to the ‘dark Satanic Mills’ of the Industrial Revolution.

The tune to ‘Jerusalem’, written much later in 1917, was composed by Parry, who also wrote the choral favourite ‘I Was Glad’.

But what are the lyrics, and who composed the great anthem?

Read more: The 15 greatest hymns of all time

St Paul’s Cathedral Choir sing ‘Jerusalem’
St Paul’s Cathedral Choir sing ‘Jerusalem’. Picture: Alamy

Who wrote the hymn ‘Jerusalem’?

When ‘Jerusalem’ was included as a patriotic poem in a 1916 collection for a country at war, it immediately caught the eye of Parry – who was more than happy, at the suggestion of the Poet Laureate, Robert Bridges, to set it to music, calling it simply ‘Jerusalem’.

A firm favourite today, ‘Jerusalem’ is a musical staple at weddings around the country, as well as a traditional feature of Women’s Institute Meetings since the early 1920s.

The music by Parry is usually performed in the arrangement that Edward Elgar wrote in 1922, for the Leeds Festival.

Parry had died just four years earlier, so this re-orchestration was Elgar’s way of paying tribute to his fellow composer.

Read more: What are the lyrics to British hymn ‘Abide with Me’?

‘Jerusalem’ tells of the legend that Jesus might have travelled to Glastonbury
‘Jerusalem’ tells of the legend that Jesus might have travelled to Glastonbury. Picture: Alamy

What are the lyrics to ‘Jerusalem’?

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.

Read more: What are the lyrics to ‘God Save the Queen’ – and who composed it?

Is ‘Jerusalem’ England’s national anthem?

‘God Save the Queen’ is the national anthem for the UK, and it is often also used for England.

But ‘Jerusalem’ has become an unofficial second national anthem and is often used by England at sporting fixtures, such as the Commonwealth Games, where each of the home nations is represented separately.

When it was composed, King George V was monarch and as legend has it, His Majesty remarked that he preferred Parry’s melody to the actual national anthem for Britain.

‘Jerusalem’ has become the official hymn of the English Cricket Board and is usually sung at both the Rugby League Challenge cup Final and the Super League final.

Read more: Why ‘Jerusalem’ is played for winning English athletes at the Commonwealth Games

What is the best recording of ‘Jerusalem’?

Classic FM’s recommended recording of ‘Jerusalem’ is by The Sixteen, with organist Robert Quinney and conductor Harry Christophers. Listen below.

Parry: Jerusalem