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Last Saturday the family descended on the picturesque village of Bawdsey in Suffolk to attend my nephew Sam’s wedding. Over a hundred of us packed the tiny village church to witness the happy event. It was a very English affair, or at least the idyllic vision of England that exists in our imaginations, the sun beat down outside and inside everyone sang Jerusalem at the top of their lungs.

Everyone likes Jerusalem don’t they? Beloved of party conferences, Royal weddings and sporting events, it is the great unifier, the most patriotic of songs. By rights it should be the National Anthem because it has a better tune, everyone knows more of the words and it has nothing to do with those silly royals, even George V preferred it!

It always brings a tear to my eye. The words come from William Blake’s epic work on creativity Milton, A Poem, written in 1808. I’ve always had a thing for Blake, one of the great revolutionary poets, disguising his protests in poetic imagery. The words so familiar to us are generally considered to be a hidden dig at the injustices of the industrial revolution, the horrors of child labour and unfair working conditions, disguised in the myth of Jesus visiting Arthurian England in the lost years. The green and pleasant land versus the dark satanic mills. The music was added by Hubert Parry in 1916 in the midst of the Great War and the depths of British despair an anthem to boost morale. It became the anthem of the Women’s Suffrage Movement and for me this sums up its universal appeal. We are at heart a nation of protestors, from anti-war marches to stop the runway, from general strikes to CND, from the poll tax riots to justice for pensioners, it’s in our nature and the last two verses of Jerusalem urge us on to fight against injustice and build a haven in England’s green and pleasant land. And so the voices rang out in Bawdsey church as two families joined together.

Afterwards we followed the bride and groom on foot along confetti-strewn country lanes literally stopping traffic. At the marquee we drank champagne from china tea cups and ate scones with jam and cream while the children chased a hen around the field. There was a hog roast and barefoot dancing and the generations mingled together in celebration. My cousin Ann said it was like a Thomas Hardy wedding and I couldn’t help agree, but Hardy’s weddings always ended up as solemn affairs and this one wasn’t, so instead I offer this poem by Auden because it sums the day up perfectly. Here’s to you Sam and Laura and thank you for a lovely day!

Carry Her Over the Water by W. H. Auden

Carry her over the water,
And set her down under the tree,
Where the culvers white all day and all night.
And the winds from every quarter,
Sing agreeably, agreeably, agreeably of love.

Put a gold ring on her finger,
And press her close to your heart,
While the fish in the lake their snapshots take,
And the frog, that sanguine singer,
Sings agreeably, agreeably, agreeably of love.

The streets shall all flock to your marriage,
The houses turn around to look,
The tables and chairs say suitable prayers,
And the horses drawing your carriage
Sing agreeably, agreeably, agreeably of love.

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