And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time
This poem ‘And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time’ is inspired by the Book Revelations and the Second Coming of Jesus for the
establishment of a new Jerusalem with indicative words ‘Jerusalem builded’ and ‘chariot of fire’. This is why this poem is sometimes referred to as ‘The New Jerusalem’. It is also a reference to the setting up of a new society with the onset of the Industrial Revolution.
The poem begins with the pleasant and calm curiosity of whether Jesus had ever walked the English countryside as is the common narrative. These lines focus on the natural beauty with the ‘mountains green ‘pleasantpastures’ and the ‘clouded hill’ along with the calming divine presence with words like the ‘Lamb of God’ and the ‘countenance
divine’. But very quickly the pleasant scenes are overtaken by the aggressive calls for a war with the ‘bows’, ‘arrows’ and ‘spears’. The building anger finds a platform in the last lines to wage a holy war against the ‘dark satanic mills’ which are trying to dominate the ‘green and pleasant land’. The poem seems to indicate that the growing industrialization and its ills must be curtailed with the establishment of a New Jerusalem.
Summary of And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time
The first few lines are a reference to the New Testament and the questions regarding whether Jesus (‘holy Lamb of God’) ever walked (‘those feet’) about the ‘England’s mountain green’. There is a very strong focus on the imagery of nature and the natural environment with the use of words like ‘England’s mountain green’, ‘pleasure pastures’
and the ‘clouded hills’. Adding to the pleasantness of the scene are the words with are used to describe God, like ‘the Lamb of God’ and the ‘Countenance Divine’. The latter word can be seen as a reference to the Book of Exodus where it is described that no one can see the face of God and live. Another way in which the idyllic landscape is brought to life is the manner in which Blake uses the words ‘shine forth upon our clouded hills’ as if to reflect the sun which bathes the hills when it shines. It is also implied that in the ‘ancient’ time when Jesus walked across England, only nature was present to witness the divine presence.
The last lines are a little different. This is because of the use of the terms ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘Satanic Mills’. The word ‘Jerusalem’ might be a reference to the heavenly times when Jesus walked the earth, the ideal and utopic place compared to the present day ‘Satanic Mills’. Notice here that this phrase is the first negative word of the stanza and the word ‘mills’ is directly used to refer to the pollution, exploitation and mechanization of Blake’s contemporary world. The mills are ‘satanic’ for they are against God’s heaven and the peace and green is replaced by the noisy and sooty cities.
The calm which was broken with the mention of the ‘Satanic mills’ is now fully reversed with aggressive words like ‘bow’, ‘arrow’, ‘spear’, ‘burning gold’ and ‘flaming chariot’. Moreover, these words are also representative of the instruments used in war. All this is reinforced with phrases like ‘bring me’ (which is repeated four times), ‘I will not cease’, ‘shall have my sword sleep in my hand’ and the use of exclamations. Apart from ‘Jerusalem’, another biblical element is the use of the phrase ‘Chariot of Fire’ which is known to be a reference to Elijah’s ascent to heaven. The burning frustration is to wage a holy war ‘we have built Jerusalem’ against the ‘satanic mills’ in ‘England’s green and pleasant land’. Notice how the anger evoked in the poem is given a positive spin with the final thought in the poem ‘Till we have built Jerusalem, In England’s green and pleasant Land’, which is a determined call for action. The narrator ‘will not cease’ until peace is restored to England.
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