This past month, the men’s choir sang the beautiful hymn, O Day of Peace (hymn #711 in the ELW hymnbook). If it sounded familiar, it’s not surprising. The tune to this hymn has a long and well known past, embedded in English culture.
In 1916, Sir Hubert Parry set the now famous poem by William Blake, to music. Titled, Jerusalem, it quickly became known as England’s second national anthem.
Every year at the Promenade Concerts (or The Proms), Jerusalem, is featured at the closing concert. If you are not familiar with The Proms, it is a weeklong music festival, held in London at the Royal Albert Hall. The final evening features English composers and the prime spot for Parry’s anthem is at the very end, just before the festival closes with God Save the Queen. Take some time and look up, “Jerusalem at the proms”, on youtube. It’s quite a moving experience and imagine experiencing it live!
There are numerous recordings and arrangements of Jerusalem, including one by the rock group, Emmerson, Lake and Palmer. However, the most famous use, in contemporary culture, is from the movie, Chariots of Fire. Not only is the anthem figured prominently during the movie, the title itself comes from the words of the poem.
Parry himself, was not happy with the use of Jerusalem as a hymn, since it is not a prayer to God and has a rather militaristic feel to it. Over the years, many churches have taken the inspiring and moving tune and used it with other lyrics, more prayer like and less English-centric. This leads us back to our current Lutheran hymnbook, where the gentle and inspiring lyrics to O Day of Peace fill us with hope and the promise of God’s peace.
And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time- 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