What links the devil with the Women’s Institute? Or, more precisely, who?
Go on. I’ll give you ten seconds to work it out.
I got thinking about this person whilst doing a spot of research for a chapter of our Clovenhoof novel which features a children’s choir (and animal slaughter, fake blood and credit card fraud). I got to thinking about what hymns make vague references to Satan and, indeed, which hymns old Clovenhoof/Satan would either loathe or have a grudging admiration for. I did play around with He Who Would Valiant Be (AKA To Be A Pilgrim) because it has those cute and ridiculous references to giants, hobgoblins and fiends but my mind, in hymn-mode, kept coming back to one hymn and one man.
Right, that’s your ten seconds. Worked it out yet?
The answer is William Blake.
William Blake wrote the words that, put to music by Hubert Parry (and then fiddled about a bit by Elgar, to be honest), became the hymn we now know as Jerusalem. Originally brought together as a patriotic rabble-rouser (something Hubert Parry wasn’t particularly happy about), the song was then adopted by the suffragette movement and then, after women got the vote, co-opted by the Women’s Institute as an unofficial anthem. Today, it is played and sung at many English sporting events and, despite my own personal atheism and all-round lack of patriotism, I agree with those who feel it is a far better national anthem than the one we have. Me and King George V are as one on that point.
Oh, and the fact that it is based on a piece of apocryphal nonsense about Jesus visiting Somerset, England as a child also adds to its charm.
If you’ve not heard it before Go here and listen.
But Blake didn’t just write poems for rugby fans, suffragettes and jam-making ladies to sing along to. He also wrote poetry of a more theological dimension. Arguably his greatest work is The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. It’s satire. It’s criticism. It’s a bit of poetry and a bit of nonsense.
And, like John Milton, although Blake was Christian (sort of), he couldn’t help painting Satan as the hero of his piece. In fact, in The Marriage, Blake says of Milton “The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devils party without knowing it.”
What I really like about The Marriage of Heaven and Hell are the ‘Proverbs of Hell’ Blake gives us. Chances are you already know some. Here’s a sample:
·         The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.
·         The cut worm forgives the plow.
·         The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.
·         Improvement makes strait roads, but the crooked roads without Improvement, are roads of Genius
Thing is, I  can imagine the character of Clovenhoof in our novel uttering words very much like these. He, like Blake’s hell, is energy not evil, opposed to heaven which is not goodness but passivity. Clovenhoof is the guy who says what the rest of us are thinking. He’s the fellow who will push boundaries and demand to know why he can’t. The Proverbs of Hell were practically written for him.
Maybe I’ll see if I can sneak some of these into our text.
And as for “The Devil and the W.I.”…
..that is definitely a chapter title for the second Clovenhoof book.