This poem is part of a longer one written by William Blake. Also known as "And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time,” it forms part of the lengthier "Milton" published in 1808. It became more popularly known as "Jerusalem" after Sir Hubert Parry set it to music in 1916. The musical form of the poem "Jerusalem," in its new use, was meant to reunite and motivate English troops.
The poem, composed of four stanzas, maintains an ABCB rhyme except for one stanza. However, in the third stanza, the rhyme scheme is ABAB. The stanza also exhibits some repetition and a more regular meter. Overall, the poem reads fluidly and musically.
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
The first line of the poem is a clear indication that the subject being discussed is historical. There is also implied importance to what will be addressed as the poem unfolds. Additionally, the setting is mentioned in the second line. This gives a strong insight to the direction of the poem.
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
The "Lamb of God" is a moniker ascribed to Jesus as the Son of God. The reader now realizes the feet mentioned in the first line are those of Jesus, wandering through the land of England. The reader can picture England, having been described with green mountains and pastures, as natural and beautiful.
And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
Assuming the speaker continues referring to Jesus, these lines are asking if his Godly face and expression lit the "clouded hills." This does not merely mean to ask if he looked at them or their direction; this suggests that action would brighten a darkened area. The rousing tone of the poem begins to be picked up here, through the image of Jesus on beautiful land and the spreading of his divine illumination.
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
The "Satanic Mills" refer to something man-made. This can be deduced from the usage of "mills," which are buildings with large equipment used for grinding and manufacturing. The query of Jerusalem, heralded as a holy land, being built where these same "Satanic" places exist is striking. It is yet another contrast of dark and light in the poem.
Bring me my Bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Gold is typically thought of as valuable and, as a result, is greatly sought out. However, this places that 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 man’s heart is visible.
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!
The image of fire and burning continues through to the end of the stanza. It is perhaps because this third stanza is heavily themed, the rhyme scheme and meter match so well. God often appears in the bible through flames, or flame-like substances. It is highly possible Blake used this imagery in connection to God, especially considering the presence of Jesus in the poem. Again, the notion of the divine "clearing up" or "brightening" 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. Given the previous remark on man’s greed and the accompanying imagery, the speaker of this poem wishes to combat greed and all the "Satanic Mills" represent.
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand:
In this line, the speaker reiterates the decision to take action. By not allowing the sword to sleep in his hand, he means it (or he) will not sit idly by. There will be a fight, a resistance with mental and physical capacity. This line, and the previous line, makes a strong statement against the negative aspects of man and the state of society at the time.
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In Englands green & pleasant Land.
These final lines wrap up the poem in keeping with the vision of brightening the darkness. Again, it is through this that it is clear how this poem is rousing. Just as Jesus and his divinity could clear up cloudiness, those willing to continue with the "Mental Fight" will build "Jerusalem." Biblically, the land of Jerusalem is a sacred place meant as a promise of peace and beauty. This is what the speaker desires for his own land. The speaker yearns for a "green & pleasant Land."
Though this poem can be seen as patriotic, it also shows a much bigger picture of working toward a peaceful life. The poem constantly paints images of fire and of dark places being lighted with divinity and hope. It is important to note the poem was written during the Industrial Revolution, marking the true significance of the appearance of 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. Blake achieves powerful juxtaposition between the beauty and peace of a bright, green land and the gloomy land, as it existed at the time.
The poem holds a visionary theme of improvement upon a negative situation and shift. In other words, the speaker constantly alludes to Jesus illuminating the land and uses fire imagery in stark contrast to the dim world surrounding him. It is not just dim in physical reality, but also in the mental state and pursuit of the people. This is solidified at the end of the poem, with the final three lines showing the speaker opposing the clouded land and life to fight for a "green & pleasant Land."