Study Guide

Jerusalem Themes

  • Memory and the Past

    The speaker of "Jerusalem" looks forward to a new era, but also backwards to an "ancient time." He wonders if Jesus ever visited England, and if Jerusalem was once built there. While the speaker isn't quite sure if this ever actually happened (the "past" he imagines is more legend than anything), it's almost like he wants to imagine that it did. That way he can imagine a future that repeats the past (if you can follow that logic). The past the speaker talks about is peaceful, holy, and magical proof that England's "clouded hills" were once full of divine light and grace. Far out.

    Questions About Memory and the Past

    1. Does the speaker really think the past was a better time than the present? How can you tell?
    2. Is the speaker just being foolishly nostalgic? What parts of the poem support your answer?
    3. Does the speaker just want the future to repeat the past, or does he want to take the past as a model and expand upon it? How can you tell?
    4. Do the speaker's questions suggest that maybe he doesn't really believe the past happened the way he suggests it did? What other parts of the poem support your ideas?

    Chew on This

    The poem is made up of a lot of questions, like… a lot. This suggests that we can never really truly know the past, even though we may think we do.

    The past is important for the speaker because it's a model or template… or blueprint for the future. Jerusalem was perhaps already built once, and can be built again.

  • Change

    In "Jerusalem," the speaker is obsessed with a potentially legendary past, when Jesus visited England. Man, those were the days. All this reflection on that past gets him thinking that things really need to change in England. The New Jerusalem, the speaker's symbol of a reborn, holy, pure, and better England, must be built again. In other words, the time is ripe for revolution, only it doesn't have to be a huge, bloody mess like the 1789 French Revolution. While the speaker doesn't go into a whole lot of detail about just how to bring the changes that are necessary, he does clearly state that England is full of "Satanic mills" (evil, dirty factories and other bad things) and some weaponry will be necessary (a bow and arrow, for example). At the same time, he does also imply that some type of mental action will be necessary to bring about the changes he thinks are necessary.

    Questions About Change

    1. What do you think the phrase "Mental Fight" means, really?
    2. Does the speaker expect things to change too much? In other words, does it seem like he's being unreasonable? What parts of the poem support your view?
    3. Is revolution the wrong word to describe what the speaker wants to happen? Why or why not?
    4. What is the speaker doing to help bring about the changes he thinks are necessary?

    Chew on This

    Change must come to England, no doubt about it. Even though the speaker talks about weapons, the change can be as simple as looking at things differently.

    When things get so bad that the only way to describe them is with the word "Satanic," something must be done. Everything must be completely burned away, destroyed, and remade.

  • Perseverance

    "Jerusalem" is a poem about perseverance if there ever was one. Think about it. In the poem's third and fourth stanzas, the speaker is essentially getting ready for battle (bring me my bow, bring me my spear, etc.). The goal is to build Jerusalem, and the speaker isn't going to stop until that happens. He wants to believe that it's already been built once before (in England), so at least there's some hope. Nevertheless, it's not an easy task, and the speaker flat out says that his word will not sleep, and he will not cease, until that task is done.

    Questions About Perseverance

    1. How does that phrase "Mental Fight" relate to perseverance? Is this a metaphor for staying mentally alert while focusing on a goal? Why or why not?
    2. How does all the repetition in this poem relate to the theme of perseverance?
    3. Does the speaker say anything about what will happen if he stops persevering? Are there examples of failure in this poem that make that clear?
    4. Is Jesus (the Lamb of God) a model of perseverance in this poem? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    Perseverance is about keeping your eye on the prize, keeping your sword sharp, your arrows ready, and your chariot lit and moving—metaphorically speaking of course.

    Perseverance in pursuit of a goal is just like a battle. That's why the speaker is all about those weapons.