“Milton! Thou shouldst be living at this hour.”

Wordsworth’s line strikes me as particularly apt this weekend, thanks to a piece I ran across this week at Ghost of A Flea. The Ghost reports:

The Church of England national worship development officer is reportedly encouraging ministers to stop banning “Jerusalem” as un-Christian and ‘too nationalistic’.

William Blake’s poem in its setting by William Parry (which will be familiar to ELP and Monty Python fans, among others) has acquired the status of an unofficial British national hymn, with its call to build Jerusalem “in England’s green and pleasant land.” However, that seems to offend some C of E clergy, who prefer their hymns without arrows of desire or mental fight. The Ghost is appalled that those clergy would themselves be so bloodless as to forbid the song, and says that England needs another Cromwell. However, I think Wordsworth may have gotten it right.

Blake wrote his poem as part of his preface to Milton, his epic to the great English poet, while Wordsworth saw Milton as the antidote to an enervated English culture. Blake and Wordsworth both recognized Milton’s courage, nonconformity, and intellectual vigor. More to our purpose here, however, is Milton’s defense of freedom of expression. Both Blake and Wordsworth, I think, would have recognized the value of Milton’s Areopagitica, which is recognized as a foundational text for the freedoms of speech and press. It is ironic, then, that a poem inspired in part by a defender of freedom is itself in danger of being suppressed by what was his national church.

I hope that the Church’s worship development officer is successful, but as the Ghost knows, the tragedy is that the situation has come to this point.

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About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
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