Our visitors made heroic efforts last Wednesday to get to the University of Gloucestershire through snowdrifts and Siberian breezes. Once they got here safely, and thawed out, we had a great day of meeting, talking, and learning. We run a couple of Applicant Days each year as special information and learning events for students who have accepted a place with us but want to find out more about what we’re like. The Head of Humanities, Dr Shelley Saguaro, welcomed students, parents and friends before we split into course groups for taster sessions. We try to give students a sense of what they’ll experience in the classroom in their first year of study. It’s quite an adjustment for students to go from the periphery of learning to its centre; social as well as academic skills are required.
The English Literature session, ‘Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’ and the Politics of Romantic Poetry’ asked students to think about Blake’s well-known but never-understood poem ‘Jerusalem’. This hymnlike poem appears in the Preface to a much longer epic poem, Milton (composed c. 1804-11). The second odd point is that far more people have heard the poem than read it. Hubert Parry set it to music in 1916, and it was adopted by the Suffragette movement. English (not always British) people like to sing it at various national events, from football to the Womens Institute AGM, and of course every year at the Last Night of the Proms.
But is the poem a statement of triumph, or a warning? Students noted that the poem seemed full of ironies, that it contained folkloric elements that perhaps suggested a popular mode, or an anti-style. Until lunchtime, we began a conversation that will not end, but will continue to open up inquiry indefinitely.