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A Blakean “Unofficial International Anthem”

 
National anthems are often barely singable tunes with bombastic, jingoistic words.  Doesn’t that fit the “Star Spangled Banner?”
 
It even is more difficult to sing when we know its slave-owning author, Francis Scott Key, even condemned enslaved folk aligned with the British in its third verse.
 
In view of all the global crises, isn’t it time to focus on issues that ignore national boundaries?
 
Isn’t it time we start singing an “unofficial international anthem” recognizing our world-wide plight together?
 
I offer one here, inspired by a poem of William Blake which has been crazily hijacked as Great Britain’s “unofficial national anthem.”  My poem borrows phrases and images from a poem about England and applies them to the whole world today:
 

 
I earlier shared the words, without music, in Progressive Christianity:
 

 
A Clean, Safe Place
Inspired by poem of William Blake

(Tune: Parry, “Jerusalem”)
by Robert O’Sullivan
 
And will those feet in modern time,
Walk upon earth’s fair mountains green?
And will the Holiness of God
On pleasant pastures of our globe be seen?
And will the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our shrouded hills?
And will a Clean, Safe Place e’er be built
Among these dark Satanic Spills?

Feel how it chills when glaciers melt
And islands drop into the sea;
When trees are scorched and waters soiled.
Mid climate changed for all to see.
No more let greed and hellish hate
Trample upon creation pure.
Nor let extraction, nor sinful waste,
Extinction on our globe ensure.

Reject injustice, prejudice now.
Cast out oppression, hatred based.
Protect all children, hungry and poor:
Lest life abundant be erased.
Bring us our holy songs untold:
Bring us our muse, bard words inspire:
Bring us our vision clear, clouds unfold!
Bring us our Love and Care Afire!

Bring us more prophets full of truth:
Bring us the courage to fight on:
Brings us non-violent troops of faith:
Brings us the hope of battles won.
We will not cease from Mental Fight
Nor shall our voice be silent more:
Til we restore a Clean, Safe Place
From highest peaks to every shore.

******************
 

(O’Sullivan at Tate Britain, London)
 
A poem by William Blake that concludes the unusual preface to one of his prophetic works, “Milton, a Poem in 2 Books, ” has had a most curious history.  Although not intended as a hymn or anthem, after being set to music by Sir Hubert Parry during World War I, it has become “Jerusalem,“ an English “unofficial national anthem” sung widely in Great Britain at civic observances, graduations, Proms concerts https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-XfbEOFLqPE , church services, weddings and even as a rally song for professional sports teams. Needless to say, it is familiar to most U.K. residents while unfamiliar to many in the U.S.A. or the rest of the world.
 
Ironically, it has been embraced across the British political spectrum as a patriotic—almost jingoistic—celebration of Anglo-nationalism/exceptionalism, wildly ignoring the context in which it was presented or the overall message of an extraordinary bard/artist/visionary/prophet who was deeply critical of the England of his day, Even a reference to “dark Satanic Mills” doesn’t guarantee that people “get it.”
 
Blake’s poem refers to the legend that Joseph of Arimathea brought the Holy Grail, and perhaps Jesus himself, to Glastonbury.  “And did those feet…?” is a clear reference to divine presence which I attempt to apply for modern times.
 
The use of the term “Jerusalem” in Blake’s poem is especially problematic in that his biblically inspired images conflict so with modern political reality in the Middle East.  Hence, “a clean, safe place” has been substituted.
 
It might seem audacious to use poetic license to “riff” freely in modern times on a work by one of the English language’s greatest lyric poets, but I feel it appropriate knowing that someone who died in obscurity and poverty almost two hundred years ago still lives in “eternity’s sunrise” inspiring writers ever since.
 
Beyond adapting the poem for today, I have made its themes global while attempting to retain Blakean language and emphases, as well as unusual punctuation, Capitalization and style. I have also replaced the poet’s metaphoric weapons—bow, arrow, spear, sword, chariot—with what were Blake’s real weapons—imagination, bardic words and brilliant images.
 
Untitled Poem from Preface to “Milton”
(sometimes known as “Jerusalem” or “And Did Those Feet?”)
by William Blake
 
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 & pleasant Land.
 
Would to God that all the Lord’s people were Prophets. Numbers 11:29

Response to “A Clean, Safe Place”: By John Higgs, author of William Blake Now:  Why He Matters More Than Ever (London 2019): “I approve heartily, and I am sure Blake would, too.”    By Roger Lipsey, author of Hammarskjold :A Life (Univ. of Michigan Press) and Thomas Merton scholar: “Words, meanings, and music (so like Mendelssohn!) all fit together beautifully.”
 
A podcast interview of O’Sullivan on Blake: http://kciw.org/reality-check-robert-o-sullivan-on-william-blake
 
To view O’Sullivan’s new verses to Christmas carols, go to:  https://progressivechristianity.org/resources/new-verses-for-christmas-carols/
 
Contact info:
Robert O’Sullivan
rhosul@earthlink.net
510-872-1124

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