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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Tuesday, May 05, 2009
    Hymns that seem to say ‘no’
    Amazing the conversations you get into at St Deiniol’s. Over a very agreeable curry this evening three of us got talking about Blake's Jerusalem: which, as one of my companions pointed out, is the only hymn which consists of four questions, the answer to each of them being ‘no’.

    He said that as a criticism of the hymn, a dislike shared by our other companion at the table. As we know, opinion is sharply divided over Jerusalem. I’m a keen fan of Blake’s classic of deep topography and psychogeographical potentiality, so, outnumbered, I swerved the conversation in another direction by offering the observation that there’s very few hymns at all which consist of questions.

    Think about it: besides And did those feet...? what else is there? Not much. We came up with And can it be...? and amused ourselves at the suggestion of Will your anchor hold in the storms of life? But then we got quite stuck. (We’d forgotten, for a while, the modern interrogative songs Will you come and follow me if I but call your name? and When I needed a neighbour were you there?, and - being men of intellectual substance - we hastily disregarded Who put the colours in the rainbow?)

    The thoughtful lull in our conversation ended when we latched onto this one: Where you there when they crucified my Lord? A hymn, we noticed, which (like Jerusalem) consists of four questions, the answer to each of them being ‘no’. ‘No’, that is, unless you believe in deep topography and psychogeographical potentiality. I left it there.

    Blake image: Wikipedia