Jerusalem: Hymn of England

Today I played at Beamish Museum in a celebration of the hundredth anniversary of the hymn ‘Jerusalem’. Beyond doubt, it’s worth a blog post. (Side-note: I can’t seem to keep a consistent tone in my writing today. I hope it isn’t horribly noticeable.)


I’ll begin with its history. Set the scene: 1916. For two long years, war had decimated the youth of Europe. Ypres. Verdun. Loos. Arras.


On Thursday I spent half an hour at Tyne Cot Cemetery in Belgium. The number of graves–and the number of those unmarked–…

Poet Laureate Robert Bridges had recently edited an anthology of patriotic verse, and rediscovered in it the sixteen lines which serve as a preface to William Blake’s epic poem ‘Milton’. Though passing unnoticed at publication in 1808 and throughout that century, these lines Bridges now gave to the composer Sir Hubert Parry, requesting that he set them to music.

The tune was written, arranged, printed, sung at a campaign meeting by various choral societies of London. The women’s suffrage movement took it up, as did public schools such as Elizabeth College in Guernsey—they speak of it with more ardour than most teenage boys display towards anything (with the possible exception of FIFA). The famous composer Edward Elgar wrote his own orchestration, and so its popularity soared, and became a symbol of English morale.


The Western Front 1916

In 1918, the war ended—and Parry passed away. Since then, Jerusalem has been used by all the major political parties, adopted as the anthem of the Women’s Institute, rugby teams, the hymn book, and the Proms.


I’ve found so many articles about Jerusalem that are focussed almost entirely on Sir Hubert Parry. In the first place, it seems counterproductive to esteem a composer for a single work. I, for one, know none of his earlier music, but since he died two years after Jerusalem became the Georgian equivalent of a number one hit, it rather eclipses the entirety of his previous career. In the second instance, I find it far more interesting to discuss the words of Jerusalem, chiefly because they’re steeped in controversy.

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountain 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 those 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.

The most common interpretation is a religious one. Firstly, it’s important to understand that Jerusalem is a standard metaphor for Heaven in Church of England jargon. This is explored in the two verses: the first Jerusalem, and the second Jerusalem.

The four questions in the first verse are a speculation drawing upon an apocryphal story, in which Jesus visits England during his early years. It follows that if this visit happened, Jesus would have ‘brought’ Heaven to England, representing the first Jerusalem.

Progressing to the second verse, it’s easy to derive parallels from the Book of Revelation. Revelation tells of the glorious second coming of Jesus, just as Blake writes of a new Jerusalem taking root in England.


Angel of the Revelation: Blake was also one of the leading visual artists of the Romantic era.

But was it so idealistic as it sounds? ‘Dark satanic mills’ is often attributed to the Industrial Revolution sweeping England inside out—but, more deeply than that, Blake is attacking the bondage of institutions, organised religion, education, and the corruption inherent in Victorian society.

Does that negate any religious intent? Blake was committed to social change, and he held staunch revolutionary views for which he was at one point charged with treason. But though intensely religious, the real irony lies in the usage of his words, rather than their interpreted meaning: originally defaming the ‘institutions of repression’, his poem has become a symbol of national solidarity and patriotism. It appeals somewhat to the English humour.


Nevertheless, I believe something of Blake’s original intention is yet preserved. The bourgeois generals sending thousands of men to their death in the Great War are analogous to the social shackles of Blake’s Victorian England. Today, the bonds of capitalism and social class loom still on the minds of the English people.

When I watch the crowds of tourists filtering through Beamish Museum stop by the bandstand and pour their voices into the hymn, knowing the words as if writ on their hearts, singing of the Lamb of God though many may be atheists, and ‘England’s pleasant pastures’ though they won’t admit their patriotism even to themselves, I can’t help but think that this song has touched them. Its stirring words, its iconic tune: no wonder they’re trying to make it our national anthem. ‘God Save the Queen’, as MP Toby Perkins argued earlier this year, is the anthem of Britain, but as of now, the country of England has none to officially call our own. None but this one.


If you want to read more about Blake and Jerusalem, here’s a great article.




Did That Three-Year-Old Just Say ‘Arse’?

Music: Genesis—Horizons

I must be a bad Catholic and a bad musician for saying this, but I kind of hate church when it goes on forever and the Mass is in Latin and the priest rambles unintelligently about a mumbled Gospel and the organ does all these twiddly bits that are impossible for the ordinary person to sing. So whenever I can (ie school holidays) I go to weekday Mass. Half nine till ten, no music, no sermon; just the [most] important parts. Just me and the nuns.

I went this morning. Arrived in good time, knelt down to pray. The morning sunlight made a fantasia of the coloured glass behind the altar, streaming in ribbons through the cold church. That and silence was all the music I joseph's

Enter the priest. Since our Canon had been flown across to hospital on the mainland for an emergency quadruple heart bypass, the elderly man swaying in was a temporary replacement. I’d never seen him before. When he began to speak, it was a relief to hear that he was English (our recent turnover of priests includes Kenyan, Polish, and Nigerian. All unintelligible. And even when we got lucky with Irish, we only discovered after that guy’s first sermon that he’d been talking about ‘death’ the whole time rather than ‘debt’). But unfortunately his scratchy bass didn’t resonate in our vast church, so, while I heard something about the ordination of seventeenth century knights, I can’t claim to know the facts.

The readings began. Good; they’d turned the lectern microphone on, if not the priest’s. At what point did I first detect it? A squealing, a yelling, an occasional bellowed “I WANT MAMMYYY!” from the porch behind me. It escalated to full-blown screaming during the second reading. And then the unfortunate female decided to bring her three small boys into the body of the church.

The first I saw was a boy of around five, marching down the centre aisle and apologising impudently to everyone sat at the end of a row. Behind him was a curly-haired urchin of around three, stomping very audibly and gurgling to himself, quite unaware of anybody else in the church straining to hear the priest drone out the Gospel. Or were we all distracted by that time? Finally the lady herself, staggering down the aisle with a precarious clutch on a boy who can’t’ve been more than two.

Gosh, those lungs! At the nearest screech, I heard the hearing aids of the gentleman behind me give a warning buzz.stjoseph's

After some altercation and the testing out of various pews, the quartet took up residence in the front row. The children would not sit. The children would not stop talking. Or giggling. Or screaming. The thin-haired woman, who I recognised as the uber-prudent, pious Latin teacher from the college, hissed at them, grabbed at them, chased them up and down the aisles and between the pews. She hadn’t enough hands. But I sure have never seen someone pass so many times in front of the altar during Mass. Or after, for that matter. Or bow so low every. single. time.

The priest continued. Everybody continued. I bit my lip to keep from laughing and, and if it weren’t for the woman near the back with the shrill, unmusical voice, would’ve forgotten to join in with half the responses. Nay, I wouldn’t’ve known they were being spoken. If I’d been wearing headphones, it would’ve been the most perfect morning entertainment anyone could’ve dreamed up.

I’ll take a moment to put this woman in context. She once scolded my mum for speaking a couple of polite words to a family friend in the confession queue. She also told our church band off for a single word in one of our worship songs—it was blasphemous, she said; it wasn’t Catholic. She dislikes us anyway because the stuff we play is modern and Anglican. The three boys she brought to church—and kept in church, when considerate carers would remove their screaming children from the building during worship, or stop their children from playing hide-and-seek all over the altars—were her grandchildren; which is odd, because she isn’t married. And, hey, “that’s not very Catholic”.

I’m afraid I have no sympathy for her. Perhaps I should. But I’m not going to judge. She made my morning (and gave me a blog post).

So, what else is there to say? It continued like this for another twenty minutes (very long time, it felt). The point of Mass was kind of lost on me. At the end the eldest boy wanted to light candles. Ten of them. And they cost thirty pence each. So lady gets out her lighter and, with a guilty look towards the priest, gives him the flame. And then, leaving the elder pair to light their own fires, runs across the entire church once again to chase the youngest boy.

Bet she makes a great grandmother. What we all would give to take such liberties with her! But nobody will dare mention how appalling the situation was. We are British; we let people judge themselves. And if they don’t, we can simply laugh at them.

Was my hearing blunted by the tinnitus of shrieking infants? Or did I really hear boy number two belt out a quick ‘arse!’ during communion?

And here, after nine hundred words, I find my topic.

Swearing is a part of everyday life for most us. Whether in pain, humour, stress management, attention and approval, or a substitute for physical aggression, we are very fond of our cuss words. And so what if we do cuss? So long as we pick our audience so as not to offend anyone, what’s the harm? In most cases swearing actually has a positive effect.

Yes, Basil again. I spent a whole morning downloading Fawlty Towers GIFs...

Yes, Basil again. I spent a whole morning downloading Fawlty Towers GIFs…

But a three-year-old saying ‘arse’ in church…either that will amuse you, or it will make you feel slightly uncomfortable.

A month or two ago I finished a book at Gatwick airport, and, with the prospect of an hour or so on a plane with nothing to do, I went to the bookshop. Later, my mother asked to see what I’d bought. She flicked through it. Her face changed. We fell out for days over Gone Girl, thanks to Gillian Flynn’s free use of F-bombs. My mum thought that any book so abounding with profanities would advocate and convey other, harmful ideas, that would be immensely unsuitable for a seventeen-year-old.

The thing is, she is naïve, and I have sheltered her. All my friends swear. All my friends drink. Our class read of Year 9 (age 13) featured unprotected teen sex, and not even as a plot point. It was gratuitous. Everything is gratuitous. I’ve encountered hundreds of times more swears in real life than in any book, and have been exposed to ‘ideas’ far more damaging. At least, my mum would think them damaging. I don’t want to upset her.

Ideas are addictive; they’ve influenced my psyche more than I like to admit. And as a young person with a growing brain and developing personality, I know these ideas will guide my decisions for the rest of my life. It’s a sickening thought, when I imagine the time of innocence (I can remember it no longer) and think of the person I might’ve been. That’s partly why my faith is so important to me—believing now, and living the belief, will set me up for life. It’s my one defence.

But let me go on about swearing.

It appeals to the animals in us. It stimulates us, it captures our attention. There’s no denying that. But does that make it okay?

It will make me fit in. It will make people like me. Yeah, sure, you’ll fit in. Just assume everybody else will swear no matter whether you do or not. I’m a bit of an idealist. And I do not swear. And I find that few people will swear when they’re talking to me—and if they do, they’ll apologise. As if they feel it’s wrong; they don’t want to corrupt my mind. That’s a super gratifying thing. I see a parallel in my dealings with alcohol: drink a little, and people will press you to drink more; own a no-alcohol policy, and they’ll respect it. It makes everything so much easier! You have a choice to get dragged into the vortex.

It makes me feel young and free! Ever popped a cuss at an incredibly inconvenient moment? Remember when you were caught by your parents for the first time? It’s stereotypical that teenagers are a little too free. We’re still getting used to the ways of society, and we’re pushing boundaries and craving the thrill of defying protocol. I wonder if we’re simply taking the lead from our elders. And if our stereotype gives us the go-ahead.

There’s no word with more than four letters that will express what I feel. Yep, there’s evidence to suggest swearing has a cathartic effect. This is a common point—especially among writers. Real people swear. How are our characters going to be believable if they don’t? I could say ‘effectiveness demeans with overuse’ or simply ‘lazy’, but really I have one answer to that: if you’re telling me there are no ways of communicating emotion, conveying character or setting scene other than sputtering fricatives all over the place, you need to get yourself some classes.

In response, we have to distinguish a writer from his characters. “I,” you say, “know that there are other means of expression…but my characters don’t.” Yes, yes, dumb your characters for your audience by all means. I’ve no problem with that. (Sarcasm, yes?)

In terms of ‘ideas’, I’m anti-swear and anti-sex in my YA. Probably, I admit, because of my innocence. But Gillian Flynn wasn’t pitching to seventeen-year-olds. And especially not expecting to have to get past their mothers. (I read GG anyway, by the by. And loved it.)

So who makes anti-cuss pacts? Religious nuts, like me. Conscientiousness, religiosity, sexual anxiety and agreeableness are negatively correlated with swearing persons. The last instance interests me particularly, but this post is getting long…

Take note: extroverts are more likely to swear. I’ve blogged before about extroversion in the Western society, and why it is popular and attractive. So it’s really not surprising that we imagine swearing will boost our self-esteem and others’ esteem of us. It’s been suggested that there’s a positive correlation between honesty and swearing. But perhaps that’s a result of the association with extraversion—which has nothing to do with honesty, when you think about it. But, then, children are pretty honest…

I swing back to the three-year-old in church. I’ve found an article claiming that children as young as two know how to swear, and have a working vocabulary of thirty to forty profanities by the time they turn double figures.

Maybe society has developed the suppression of swearing as a vehicle to teach children that their urges must be subordinate to etiquette. A by-effect is the conditioning to think some words are ‘bad’. (Like how a by-effect of the disciplinary measure of spanking is teaching them to deal with physical violence. But unlike, note, in that it teaches children that violence as a punishment is okay! And then there are other issues: for example, if spanking can be expected as a punishment for foul language, is there a corresponding expectation that the child will swear?) Can a word be intrinsically harmful? Only in the meaning attached to it. Like how casinos, despite their paranoia, depend on card-counters for their wellbeing*.

I guess it’s really all the stigma attached that makes swearing such a powerful tool. (And the sound, shape and movement of the words themselves…but that’s a whole ‘nother post’s worth.)

So what do you think? So what if a three-year-old said ‘arse’ in church?


*At any moment a casino could make a few changes to their games that would mean no skilled blackjack player could ever beat them. But if the public find out they can’t win—the vain, vain public!—nobody will play the games. So instead, casinos spend millions trying to detect card-counting practices (which aren’t illegal, I must add). I exaggerated: card-counters put casinos in a dilemma; their patronage (and the Hollywood notions attached to their success), rather than their existence, is what sustains the casinos. But that’s just my theory, and I’d love to debate it!

God is Maths!

1 + 1 = 2


Prove it.

What does true matter consist of? What is the real component of matter?


Prove it.

And don’t get microscopic on me, because who’s to say the stuff you can see under a microscope is really what’s there? You rely on your sensory experience. But how can you be assured of anything, anything except the contents of your own mind at the present moment? Maybe you just popped into existence a few seconds ago, complete with memories, knowledge and theories.

Surely I couldn’t dream all this up myself, you say.

Well, prove you didn’t. And don’t try using your senses to do that. That would be working upon the very assumption you’re attempting to prove. Total nonsense!

Atoms, again. It’s logical, you say.

Logical, eh? And tell me exactly why the things you observe correspond to your own ideas of theoretical explanations for those very observations.

1 + 1 = 2

I won’t ask you to prove it. Numbers are abstract. And if you held up one finger on one hand and one on the other, and counted two, I’d ask you how you knew your fingers existed, how you knew you were holding up two of them.

1 + 1 = 2

Everyone in their sane mind agrees. Not because they see it, but because it’s the assumption they must make in order to believe in every mathematical process in ‘existence’. Maths is there. You can’t prove it, but it doesn’t go away. It always has been, and always will be.

We say 1 + 1 = 2, and if we didn’t, everything we’d built upon that one assumption would fall through.

Maths is God. God is Maths. That’s all I need to believe.

I am a mathematician. I build my future on earth upon 1 + 1 = 2, and my future in Heaven upon my belief in God.

This is my awesome assumption of the day. Atheists and otherwise, refute my ideas all you like.

INFJs and Physical Awareness

(There’s tons more I could add, and probably scientific studies of NF types and such evidence, but this post has piddled around half-finished in My Documents for over a month as it is.)

People give me funny looks when I mention it, but I honestly enjoy the feeling of mild pain. Not pain like breaking your elbow, which excludes everything around you except that one huge frightening hurt. Just a small discomfort, such as a throbbing vein, or a paper-cut between two fingers, or a bruised muscle—something you know can’t harm you, but nags you all the same.

It’s often intrigued me why I should feel this way, when many people I know complain about such things without cease. I used to think it encouraged me to think stoically, as my father always taught me (definition 2, as below). But even though he supports the theory of evolution, he doesn’t believe in allergies or mental illnesses, the increasing statistics of which, I believe, are partially a result of the evolution of our quality of life as a species. So how can one be indifferent to a pain that does not exist? Yes, he does believe in his own hay fever. But I’m going off on another tangent.



1. a systematic philosophy, dating from around 300 BC, that held the principles of logical thought to reflect a cosmic reason instantiated in nature.
2. (lowercase) conduct conforming to the precepts of the Stoics, as repression of emotion and indifference to pleasure or pain.


Another thought was that I’m a sensation-seeker. Not an attention-seeker in the sense that I constantly desire notice (though possible I do, that, too), but someone who would ‘love’ to be the creator of a grand drama with shocking results. Just out of interest for the effects (though in truth, effects of any sort would threaten my security, and ultimately I never end up doing anything that could endanger my comfort).

But what I’ve hit upon lately, due to my interest for MBTI, is that perhaps pain gives me the physical awareness I don’t naturally have. Just last week, it was half past seven in the evening before I’d realised I’d had nothing to eat since the previous day. I’d been alone for over twelve hours, so no one had forced me to eat, as they usually would. The thought of food just hadn’t crossed my mind. I get lost in the sensation, and practical remedy doesn’t occur to me. But the hunger was there, goading me, spurring me on to a greater and more productive day than I might have spent.

It provides a link to the real world: the permission to go off into my fantasy. It says, “your body hurts, but you can deal with it!”, to return to the idea of self-denial often associated with Stoicism. But it’s not even the defiance in the face of pain that I like(!), but the connection it gives me to my body. It harnesses me where it might be dangerous to give full reign to my imagination. Yet in the partial ignoring of the sensation, my imagination feels as if it has been declared ruler. It has not, for corporeal awareness shackles it to reality, but…well, does anyone understand?

Plato. Creepy guy, 'en't 'e?

Plato. Creepy guy, ‘en’t ‘e?

Food and sleep: if we had neither, there would be so much time and freedom to follow our dreams and fulfil our desires. But what are we without our bodies? For someone who would live exclusively in the realm of souls (not to imply that Plato has won my heart, despite how I came up with a similar dualistic theory when I was seven), this is quite a concession.

But I would not be without my body. In The Matrix, the mind cannot live without the body, nor the body without the mind. No, I am for balance and connection, for harmony; though in my world, physicality strives for precedence against imagination, and vice versa. The mutual struggle is what keeps me safe, what keeps me breathing.

Neo awakes from The Matrix and discovers that while his mind has been living a computer-simulated life, his body has remained in this capsule producing energy to run the computers which took over the world several centuries ago.

Neo awakes from The Matrix and discovers that while his mind has been living a computer-simulated life, his body has remained in this capsule producing energy to run the computers which took over the world several centuries ago.

Body and mind, Christians say. The soul goes immediately to Heaven; but on the Last Day, the Judgement Day, we profess every week in our Creed, the body will be resurrected, too, and, reunited with the soul, the whole will be judged for the last time: Heaven or Hell for all eternity. We can elude neither part of us, to whatever extent we can use either or link them both.


“I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting” – Nicene Creed

To sum up, being a writer and an INFJ, who lives so much in the subconscious mind she has difficulty in communicating not only to others, but to her own consciousness, I’d gladly give up my body and live solely in the spirit. But since that is impossible, in this world, which is my own till death takes it from me, I must have some link to my own physicality that keeps me aware of the changes of day to night, and enough in the present world to keep my body functioning sufficiently to allow my subconscious mind to work to best effect.

As Captain Jack would say, “Savvy?”


Plato –

The Matrix –

“I believe…” –

I Just Received a Letter From Myself

I just received a letter from myself.

I just received a letter from myself!

At the end of September last year I attended Celebrate, a Catholic conference held in various places about the country every year. It was one of the best decisions of my life.

The previous March my wonderful youth group went to Flame, a massive Catholic youth event in Wembley Arena. It was incredible! The singing and dancing…miraculous testimonies…God and the Olympics…drama, a glee flash mob, appearances from David Wells, Jason Gardener and Fr Timothy Radcliffe, among many others…and the silence! I’ll bet Wembley has never before seen eight thousand teenage Catholics joined in silent prayer.


(My youth group was inspired by this to hold a long service of singing and silence every three or four months. We market it as ‘loud praise and silent adoration’—and we’ve kept it up ever since. There’s nothing like it for restoring passion to faith.)

I’ll never forget the comment Alex posted on my Protagonize profile two days after the event: ‘…the sign. ‘8000+ people; who have you met before?’ Me: umm…this looks like nobody. In retrospect: Bazzzz!!’ (Baz being another of my internet names.) She was sitting in the block behind mine. No; we didn’t run into one another—heck, we’d only met over the internet!—but the marvel is there.

We were so pumped after this experience (though the hotel in which we stayed in Piccadilly was recently closed down for its atrocious quality!) my youth group determined we’d go away together more often.

The epic praise-song singalong! And this photo was taken from halfway down the arena!

The epic praise-song sing-along! And this photo was taken from halfway down the arena!

So in September last year we went to Celebrate. And that was completely different. Kind of like a summer school sort of thing, because we overran the top floor of a school building and did all sorts of awesome things linked to God, and had Mass both days, but we actually got to talk to the other people there.

It was much smaller than Flame—only twenty or thirty people in our age-group (Years7-10). Yes; I was too old for it, but the two girls I’m most friendly with in my youth group are younger than me (though rather more spiritually mature, I might add!). So I made some wonderful and gorgeous friends, Catholics like myself, who go to Celebrate every year and only meet one another then. So strange—but so lovely!

One of the activities we did there was writing letters to ourselves, which they promised to send us sometime in the next year. I’m not sure how seriously I took it; I don’t even remember writing the letter, not to mention expecting it back.

But this morning I received two letters. One a birthday card…and the other an envelope addressed to me in a green felt-tip pen, in my own handwriting!

I wondered if I’d sent one of my cousins an envelope with my address on it. But when I ripped the back off and slid out the letter, that, too, was penned in the green felt-tip, and in my writing. Eesh, I thought, this person is good at imitation.

‘Dear Lillie’, it began, and so I read.

The flyer for this year.

The flyer for this year.

It was my work without a doubt. The phrasing, the imagery…and the letter-writer knew things about me that I’ve never dared tell anyone.

I expect I scribbled whatever first came to mind and just shoved it in the envelope as soon as I’d signed it ‘Yourself’ at the bottom.

But every single line I wrote is exactly what I need right now. ‘Can’t I implore you to remain adamant in all you love and believe in now? Keep love as your stimulus, Jesus your nucleus. Be good and patient so that Jesus can be seen in your soul—through you!—yes, you’re worthy when he’s shining inside you.’

I won’t give you any more; the letter is, after all, addressed to me, and is accordingly very personal. But how can I express what this means to me?

Was I wiser last September than I am now, to write such things that would help me in months to come? I may claim I’ve existed in the same way these past three years, but there’s no doubt I’ve changed. We’re constantly processing fresh and powerful emotions, and as we do we forget the old mantras. There are some which may stay with me forever; others fade.

As me ten months ago tells me now, ‘old wounds don’t hurt forever’. Since I’ve no experience of forever, I can’t vouch for that, but to be sure, some things grow less as we learn to forgive those who perpetrated them—myself included. My letter tells me to forgive myself. And today, that’s what I’m going to do.

Flame logo:

Flame in action:

Celebrate poster 2013: