And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time Analysis by William Blake


This poem And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time is written by William Blake.  It forms a part of the lengthier work ‘Milton a Poem’ published in 1804. It became more popularly known as ‘Jerusalem’ when it was set to music by Sir Hubert Parry during the First World War in 1916. The musical form of the poem ‘Jerusalem’ was used to reunite and motivate the English troops.

And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time Analysis

Comparing the past to the present often yields a sense of nostalgia and sadness in the thinkers. A yearning for a more simplistic time is not uncommon today. And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time poem was written in the backdrop of the Industrial Revolution in England. “And did those feet in ancient time/ Walk upon England’s mountains green” The very first lines of the poem denote that the subject being discussed is historical. There is also implied importance to what will be addressed as the poem unfolds. Additionally, a setting is mentioned in the second line thus giving a strong insight into the direction of the poem. “And was the holy Lamb of God/ On Englands pleasant pastures seen” The “Lamb of God” is a name ascribed to Jesus the Son of God. The reader then realizes that the feet mentioned in the first line are those of Jesus, wandering through the land of England.

A stunning & vivid picture is drawn in the reader’s mind about the scenic beauty of England. England is described as having green mountains and pastures and is indeed natural and beautiful. “And the Countenance Divine”/ Shine forth upon our clouded hills?” The third stanza continues with its reference to Jesus and poses a potent question. Here the reader can notice a mood of interrogation in the poem. These lines are asking if his Godly face and expression lit the “clouded hills” of England. This does not merely mean to ask if he looked at them or their direction, that action would illuminate a darkened area. The rousing tone of the poem seems to be picked up here, through the image of Jesus on a beautiful land & the spreading of his divine illumination. “And was Jerusalem built here/ Among the dark Satanic Mills?” The Satanic Mills” refer to the man-made things in general. This can be deduced from the usage of mills which are buildings with large equipment used for grinding and manufacturing.  

Jerusalem is heralded as the sacred land and the query of it being built where these same satanic mills exist is quite striking. It illustrates the contrast of dark and light in the poem. “Bring me my Bow of burning Gold/ Bring me my arrows of desire” These lines dive into the depths of human emotions which tend to corrupt. This vicious emotion of greed has led to the downfall of mankind or the “fall from grace.” Gold is typically thought of as valuable and is greatly sought after. However, that places greed into perspective with it being described as “burning” followed by an arrow of desire. With the bow and arrow image, the image of gold shooting desire or greed into a man’s heart is visible. “Bring me my spear: O clouds unfold!/ Bring me my Chariot of fire” In this stanza the poem shifts from a tone of interrogation to an imperative one.

The image of burning and fire continues to the end of the stanza. It is perhaps because the third stanza is heavily themed. God often appears in the bible throwing flames or flame-like substances. It is likely that the poet used this imagery in connection to God, especially considering the presence of Jesus in the poem. Here again, the notion of “clearing up” or “illuminating” the darkness is brought up. “I will not cease from Mental Fight” Presumably, the “Mental Fight” to which the speaker is referring is a state of rational clarity and strength.

It refers to the internal fight to overcome the darkness within our souls to ultimately elevate towards the light. Given the previous remark on man’s greed and the accompanying imagery, the narrator wishes to combat greed everything else that the “Satanic Mills” represent. “Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand” In this line, the narrator reiterates the decision to take action by not allowing the sword to sleep in his hand. It means that he won’t stay idle and will put this sword of will to good use.

There will be a fight with a strong resistance, using both mental and physical capacity to its full extent. This line makes a strong statement against the negative aspects of a man and the state of society at that time. “Till we have built Jerusalem/ In Englands green & pleasant land” These final lines wrap up the poem with the vision of shedding light on the darkness that has befallen England & its inhabitants in general. It tells the reader just as Jesus and his divinity could clear up the cloudiness, in the same manner, those willing to continue with the “Mental Fight” will help build Jerusalem. Biblically, Jerusalem is a sacred place meant as a promise of beauty and peace. This is exactly what the narrator desires for his own land. The speaker yearns for  “green & pleasant land.”

And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time  Central Idea/Theme

The poem, And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time holds a visionary theme of improvement upon a negative situation or shift. In other words, the narrator constantly alludes to Jesus illuminating the darkness in the land and uses fire imagery in stark contrast to the dim world surrounding him. The world is not just dim in physical reality but also in the mental state. This is solidified at the end of the poem with the final three lines implying that the narrator as opposed to the clouded land and life and is willing to fight for a “green & pleasant land.” Though this poem can be seen as patriotic, at the same time it projects a bigger picture of working toward a peaceful life. The poem constantly paints the images of fire and dark places being lighted with divinity and hope.

It is important to note that this poem was written during the period of the Industrial Revolution, marking the true significance of the appearance of the mills in the poem. The illustration of darkness and cloudiness is more remarkable with the backdrop of the time period, as well as the greed of man. The poet thus achieves a powerful juxtaposition between the beauty and peace of a bright, green land and the dim gloomy land as it existed at the time.

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