Sunday, April 13, 2008

Jerusalem

I see that there has been some controversy over Blake's hymn "Jerusalem".

At my old school, this hymn was so popular with believers and non-believers alike that groups of boys would sometimes spontaneously begin to sing it - for example at the end of assembly on the last day of term.

Funnily enough, if you had told me that a clergyman well known to me would have been the person who started the controversy by banning the hymn from his cathedral, and asked me to guess who it was, I would have guessed right.

Canon Colin Slee, now Dean of Southwark, who according to the media has taken this step, was previously sub-Dean of St Albans while I lived there. I should stress that he was always polite when we met and I am sure he was completely sincere on the occasions, which happened more than once, when he expressed opinions which I was very surprised to hear.

If it were central to the message of "Jerusalem" to present as literally true the legend that Joseph of Arimathea brought Jesus to England as a boy, on a trading voyage, the opponents of the hymn would have a point. The bible says very little about the early life of Jesus, and nothing between the time of his visit to the Temple as a boy and the Wedding at Cana shortly before the start of his mission.

However, the hymn has always spoken to me as an allegory about the need to fight for love, justice, and the Kingdom of God. To attempt to block the use of a piece of poetry which has such power to speak of that message, including to people without any strong faith, seems to me to be a very sad "own goal."

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