And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time: Poem About Reform

And did those feet in ancient time cover image

A preface to the book Milton: A Poem in Two Books and a very melodious moving song by Hubert Parry that could very well replace God Save the Queen, the national anthem of Britain, And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time is a song about moral and physical revolution, a call for changing the dark and ugly place Britain had become. With classic Blake’s religious tones, the poem about the second coming of Christ and the establishment of a New Jerusalem. 

Take a look at the poem. The meaning, analysis, and interpretations of the poem will be discussed down below. 

And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time

And did those feet in ancient time

Walk upon Englands mountains green:

And was the holy Lamb of God, 

On Englands pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,

Shine forth upon our clouded hills?

And was Jerusalem builded here,

Among these 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 Englands green & pleasant Land.

Analyzing the poem

While flowing with simple words, there are some profound meanings hidden behind them. With the need for divine intervention, a change in the current world, and an unquenching passion to do what is needed, the poem conveys the message powerfully. Let’s see how each stanza shifts the meaning from questioning what should be happening to compelling why it will happen.

And did those feet in ancient time

Walk upon Englands mountains green:

And was the holy Lamb of God, 

On Englands pleasant pastures seen!

The poem starts with a question asking whether Christ walks on the green mountains of England? Blake describes England as a beautiful place with lush pastures and green mountains; A beautiful countryside where Blake himself was living when he wrote this poem. 

A poem becomes great, not due to the things one can notice, but the things that cannot be noticed consciously. Notice how in the last two lines, he uses the term “Lamb of God”, which is a term used to describe Jesus. He then asks has He seen the pleasant pastures of England. This connection reveals a meaning; The Lamb shall feast on the green pastures. Was the pasture worthy of feeding the Lamb of God? Were the growing pastures good enough to be an offering to God?

And did the Countenance Divine,

Shine forth upon our clouded hills?

And was Jerusalem builded here,

Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Now we come to the next question of whether God would look upon the inhabitants of a place with clouded hills and dark Satanic Mills. This is where we start getting a clearer picture of the intentions behind Blake’s poem. 

The Industrial Revolution was a big change for England, and mostly negative for thousands of people who lost their livelihoods because of the “Satanic” machines. These mills had everything to give them that adjective. Gloomy, large drab castles with pipes breathing out dark clouds of smoke and dust. The “clouded hills” here means the cloud that is produced from these mils. 

What Blake is saying in this stanza is the face of God shall never shine amidst the dark clouds that cover the Sun and the sky. And Jerusalem, which is a metaphor for Heaven. Blake asks whether this place filled with dark Satanic mills could be the place where Jerusalem would have been built? 

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!

This stanza is about the preparation, the needed devices to make England worthy of becoming the New Jerusalem. The bow of burning gold refers to divine sunlight from heaven, arrows of desire is what the heavens want, spears are to break the dark clouds, and finally, the Chariot of fire refers to God’s rule.

Blake talks about what he needs to remove the Satanic and dark presence over the green lands of England and to establish a beautiful place for God to take abode in. This was the motive, now we come to the will. 

I will not cease from Mental Fight,

Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand:

Till we have built Jerusalem,

In Englands green & pleasant Land.

Blake shows his unshakable faith and an unbreakable will to do what he has intended to. He says that he won’t stop the mental fight and won’t let the sword sleep in his hands. These lines mean that both in thoughts and physical actions. He shall keep going on until they have built Jerusalem, or a place worthy to have God come down. England with green and lush lands where the Lamb of God can feast and the face of God shall shine brightly, without the dark clouds from the Satanic Mills. 

And did those feet in ancient time poem
And did those feet in ancient time by William Blake

The interpretation

The industrial revolution was a massive change for the people of England. With new factories that did not care about the poison, they ejected not only damaged the air and land and the seas but also took away the food from many laborers’ plates. 

In the pursuit of getting a job after being thrown away from the industry, people sought the city life in hopes of getting a job there. This just increased in in-flux of people in London, living on the street with rampant crime forever on the rise. This created England from a beautiful green land of pastures to a dark, hellish land of death. 

What Blake tries to convey here can be felt by anyone who is aware of the condition England, and especially London was in during those dark times. The call to make the place beautiful again is what anyone would have wanted. It is after centuries that we have been accustomed to an industrialized world that is heavily regulated to maintain pollution and environmental damage, and still, we see them as a danger to our world.

In other terms, the world was transforming into a greedy, hungry place looking to throw away everything, from humans to the world around them just to make some money. Is it not the hell Christianity warns us of? In those terms, taking the arrows and bows metaphorically, we still need to make sure the world is a place worthy of God to shine upon and visit.

This concludes the article, but there are a lot more poems by William Blake that you’ll love to read. Take a look at some of our favorite ones;

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *