08/27/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Whose Feet in Ancient Times?

Whose feet, I wonder, walked in ancient times upon
the ground that still is called Jerusalem?
They've disappeared, and yet their traces have not gone
away. Although their enemies condemn
their fervent claim to follow with their faithful feet
the feet of ancestors who made it pleasant,
it's their Jerusalem where they think that they can meet
the past which they annex there to the present.
Now that they've made the pastures green that once were brown,
their foes won't rest but claim it as their own,
although Jerusalem had never been the town
for which their tears for centuries were sown.
It's never been for them a land that's never-never,
but just the one to which they'd turn in prayer,
and with their feet upon its ground they hope forever
to be, as were their ancestors, just there.

Inspired by an article by Ben Brantley on the theater in London ("English Hours: Time and the Green and Pleasant Land," NYT, July 20, 200), in which he focuses on Jez Butterworth's "Jerusalem," showing at the Royal Court Theater, with Mark Rylance:

There's still energy left in the England of Mr. Butterworth's "Jerusalem," which opened this month. But it's the energy of an over-regulated, imaginatively bankrupt society, a world of interchangeable housing estates and closed lives, run as if by hamsters on wheels. Vividly directed by Ian Rickson, and also starring Mackenzie Crook, "Jerusalem" is a portrait of an outcast of that land. Mr. Rylance's Johnny Byron pursues an existence of highly self-medicated hedonism in a trailer in a forest glen, where teenagers gather to share joints and booze and listen to Johnny's sky-splittingly tall tales. et on St. George's Day, while a tatty fete and fair takes place in the village nearby, "Jerusalem" is the story of Johnny's last stand against the townspeople who want to evict him. Like a more famous Byron, Johnny is undoubtedly dangerous to know. But in the astonishing performance of Mr. Rylance (who won a Tony Award last year for "Boeing-Boeing"), he becomes a figure of grandeur, a man both poisoned and exalted by his own mythomania. That sense of self is rooted in an atavistic England, a time of strapping warriors and untrammeled ids. And as the play courses through its more than three hours, you understand why people seek out Johnny Byron's neck of the woods. They're looking for the real, heroic world that inspired their tawdry little St. George's Day celebrations, a world that probably never existed but that refuses to leave some fixed corner of their minds. They are searching for a never-never land called Jerusalem.