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Jerusalem: the basics

Whether sung during school assembly, at a big sporting final or during the Last Night of the Proms, Jerusalem is one of England's favourite hymns. But is it a hymn, as opposed to an anthem or a song? And what does it all mean?


As a piece of music, it dates from the time of the first world war and the suffragette movement, but the words are much older.

They were written in the first decade of the 19th century by the visionary poet William Blake. If you're looking them up in a volume of Blake's Collected Works, though, don't look under Jerusalem. They actually form a preface to a long dramatic poem called Milton.

What is it about the music to Jerusalem that stirs the heart? It is said that when King George V first heard the orchestral version of it, he felt that it ought to replace God Save The King as the national anthem. Since then, it has been claimed by a wide variety of different groups and parties who find their spirits moved by the powerful combination of Blake's mystical lyric and Sir Hubert Parry's rousing music.