I Vow to Thee, My Country
The origin of the lyric is a poem by diplomat Cecil Spring Rice, which he wrote in 1908 while posted to the British Embassy in Stockholm. Then called Urbs Dei (The City of God) or The Two Fatherlands, the poem described how a Christian owes his loyalties to both his homeland and the heavenly kingdom. The lyrics were in part based upon the motto of the Spring family, from whom Spring Rice was descended. The first verse, as originally composed, had an overtly patriotic stance, which typified its pre-first world war era.
In 1912, Spring Rice was appointed as Ambassador to the United States of America, where he influenced the administration of Woodrow Wilson to abandon neutrality and join Britain in the war against Germany. After the United States entered the war, he was recalled to Britain. Shortly before his departure from the US in January 1918, he re-wrote and renamed Urbs Dei, significantly altering the first verse to concentrate on the huge losses suffered by British soldiers during the intervening years. According to Sir Cecil's granddaughter, the three verses were never intended to appear together. The original poem consisted of verses 2 and 3, the amended poem of verses 1 and 3.
The first verse, and the rarely sung second verse, refer to the United Kingdom, and particularly to the sacrifice of those who died during the First World War. The last verse, starting "And there's another country", is a reference to heaven. The final line is based on Proverbs 3:17, which reads in the King James Bible: "Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace."
In 1921, Gustav Holst adapted the music from a section of Jupiter from his suite The Planets to create a setting for the poem. The music was extended slightly to fit the final two lines of the first verse. At the request of the publisher Curwen, Holst made a version as a unison song with orchestra (Curwen also published Sir Hubert Parry's unison song with orchestra, "Jerusalem"). This was probably first performed in 1921 and became a common element at Armistice memorial ceremonies, especially after it was published as a hymn in 1926. Holst in 1926 harmonised the tune to make it usable as a hymn, which was included in the hymnal Songs of Praise. In that version the lyrics were unchanged, but the tune was then called "Thaxted" (named after the village where Holst lived for many years). The editor of the new (1926) edition of Songs of Praise was Holst's close friend Ralph Vaughan Williams, which may have provided the stimulus for Holst's cooperation in producing the hymn.
Holst's daughter Imogen recorded that at "the time when he was asked to set these words to music, Holst was so over-worked and over-weary that he felt relieved to discover they 'fitted' the tune from Jupiter".
- I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
- Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
- The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
- That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
- The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
- The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.
- I heard my country calling, away across the sea,
- Across the waste of waters she calls and calls to me.
- Her sword is girded at her side, her helmet on her head,
- And round her feet are lying the dying and the dead.
- I hear the noise of battle, the thunder of her guns,
- I haste to thee my mother, a son among thy sons.
- And there's another country, I've heard of long ago,
- Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
- We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
- Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
- And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
- And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.
- In the video game Civilization 5, the theme is associated with Elizabeth I of England. When Elizabeth leads England to war, a more imposing and bellicose arrangement of the song is used.
- It is associated with Remembrance Day services all over the Commonwealth of Nations.
- Diana, Princess of Wales, requested that the hymn be sung at her wedding to Prince Charles in 1981, saying that it had "always been a favourite since schooldays". It was also sung at her funeral in 1997 and her tenth year memorial service in 2007. It is included on the BBC Recording of the Funeral Service.
- It was quoted by Margaret Thatcher in 1988 in her Sermon on the Mound to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Additionally, it was sung at her funeral on 17 April 2013.
- It featured in the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Summer Paralympics
- It is considered to be the school hymn of St Paul's Girls' School, Wykeham House School and The Diocesan College, although only Verses 1 and 3 are sung.
- In August 2004, the Right Reverend Stephen Lowe, Bishop of Hulme, called for the first verse not to be used in Church of England services, calling it "totally heretical". His view that it placed national loyalties above religious ones, an unquestioning support of governments, opened a debate on its wider implications.
- The tune is shared with "World In Union", the official theme song of the Rugby World Cup.
- A YouTube video of Canadian soprano Rachel Landrecht singing this hymn in 2005 at the memorial service of Smokey Smith, Canada's last surviving Victoria Cross recipient, has proven popular.
- The song is sung in the finale to the 2014 production of Henry V by Australia's Bell Shakespeare company.
- Charlotte Church – debut album Voice of an Angel.
- G4 – album G4 & Friends.
- Libera – 2003 album Free.
- English cricket team – backing vocals for Keedie (as B-side to Jerusalem).
- Katherine Jenkins – album Living a Dream.
- Bathory – album 1991 Twilight of gods.
- Blake – album Together.
- The Day Today - a musical version features in one segment.
- Civilization V - Peacetime and Wartime background/soundtrack music for the English civilization.
- Alfie Boe – album You'll Never Walk Alone.
- Sarah Brightman - album Symphony Track 13 (melody is used)
- Beck Goldsmith - trailer for BBC drama series The Village 2013.
- Cecil Spring Rice: A Diplomat's Life - David Henry Burton - Google Books. Books.google.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-09-11.
- "Cecil Spring-Rice: Singing the Unsung Hero". 04/06/2013. Retrieved 2013-11-22.
- "I Vow To Thee My Country". G4 Central. Retrieved 2007-08-31.
- Vaughan Williams & Shaw, Songs of Praise, Oxford University Press 1926
- Holst, Imogen, A Thematic Catalogue of Gustav Holst's Music. Faber 1974, page 145
- In imagery common at the time of writing, Britannia was habitually depicted girded with a sword and with a helmet on her head
- "The sound of silence". BBC News. 2005-11-14. Retrieved 2007-04-20.
- "I vow to thee, my Country". 08/11/2007. [dead link]
- "What time is Margaret Thatcher's funeral? Guest list, date, cost, travel and all the details". 2013-04-16.
- "St Paul's Girls' School".
- Petre, Jonathan; Wynne-Jones, Jonathan (2004-08-12). "Ban this racist hymn, says bishop". London: Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2009-06-26.
- Today programme (2004-08-13). "I Vow To Thee My Country". BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 2007-08-31.
- Hanson, Gerry (2004-09-28). "Patriotism and Sacrifice". Diocese of Oxford Reporter. Archived from the original on 2007-07-08. Retrieved 2007-09-01.