The mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha. 2 Kings 6:17
Having begun work on his epic poems Milton, a Poem in Two Books and Jerusalem, on moving to Felpham, Sussex, in 1800, Blake completed his Preface to Milton in 1804, apparently while awaiting trial in Chichester for high treason (he moved back to London after being acquitted).
Charles Parry set Blake’s Preface to Milton to music for a rally of the
Fight for the Right movement in Queen’s Hall. It became more generally known as Jerusalem when Parry conducted it in 1918 at a concert to mark the final stage in the Votes for Women Campaign, after which it was adopted by the National Federation of Women’s Institutes (and is still sung at meetings of WI Groups all over Britain).
Edward Elgar added an orchestral score to Parry’s rather somber tune in time for the Leeds Festival of 1922, turning it into a popular national hymn which traditionally ends the last night of the annual Sir Henry Wood promenade concerts at the Royal Albert Hall. This work also made an appearance in the Academy Award winning movie Chariots of Fire (1981).
The theme is uniquely English, and there is an undertone of 19th Century politics. The lyrics may refer to folklore that says Jesus visited Britain as a teenager with Joseph of Arimathea, who was said to be a distant relative and had a stake in Cornish tin mines. However, there is no historical data supporting this story.
This hymn was sung at the wedding of Britain’s Prince William and Catherine Middleton in Westminster Abbey, London, April 29, 2011.
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.