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A Song for England

To Stephen Eyers

The Rev. Donald Allister of Cheadle refused the request of Victoria Williams and her fiancé that the hymn Jerusalem be sung at their wedding. His defence of the decision was that the words of the hymn were too nationalistic. (He also forbad I Vow to Thee My Country, for the same reason.) On 11 August 2001, the letters page of The Daily Telegraph contained nine letters debating Mr Allister’s action.

‘Absolutely right decision,’ writes the Reverend Andrew Price.
‘Christian principles of marriage; sober, dignified advice
To be found in Cranmer’s Prayer Book, that’s what these young people need;
Not the musings of a mystic without benefit of creed.’

Mr Morley’s language makes the views of Mr Price look wet.
Blake for him’s as dangerous as ‘deranged heretics’ can get.
‘Theologically, Jerusalem is nonsense, total rot.’
And did those feet…? The answer’s clear to Morley. ‘They did not.’

Mr Lennox thinks it helpful to insult the virgin pair.
‘Quite unsuitable for marriage, in a church or anywhere.’
Why does Lennox push them down the path of immorality?
‘People like them only know the hymns they pick up on TV.’


Feeling better, gentlemen, delivered of such fine tirades?
Listen to a soft reply from this side of the barricades.
Fellow Englishmen, for love of England, where we all belong,
Some of us would like that poem to become our nation’s song.

We think it would do much better, as a national cement,
Than the set of crude commands, prosodically incompetent,
Sending God about his business, Union Jack stamped on his brow
(Written for a German monarch), which we have to stomach now.


I should like to wish the couple in their early married life
All the happiness we know that William Blake had with his wife.
Grains of sand contain whole worlds for those with inner eyes to look.
Liberated souls can have the joy of sex without a book.


This year Christ came, incognito, stepping on to Cornwall’s shore
As the legend says he might have done two thousand years before.
Much had altered, so he noted, as he moved around the land:
Not ungreen, and not unpleasant. Twenty centuries he scanned

Sitting in a pub one evening, with the papers and a beer.
Ireland, Palestine… and then he saw the letters quoted here.
Echo of raised voices, was it, faint across the interim,
Sneering, knowing, briefly caused the countenance divine to dim?

Audio file

Listen to this poem — read by Peter Hetherington