I Vow to Thee, My Country
The origin of the hymn's text is a poem by diplomat Sir Cecil Spring Rice, which he wrote in 1908 or 1912, entitled 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.
In 1908, Spring Rice was posted to the British Embassy in Stockholm. In 1912, he 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 themes of love and sacrifice rather than "the noise of battle" and "the thunder of her guns", creating a more sombre tone in view of the dreadful loss of life suffered in the Great War. The first verse in both versions invoke Britain (in the 1912 version anthropomorphised as Britannia with sword and shield, in the second version simply called "my country"), the second verse the Kingdom of Heaven.
According to Sir Cecil's granddaughter, the rewritten verse of 1918 was never intended to appear alongside the first verse of the original poem, but was replacing it; the original first verse is nevertheless sometimes known as the "rarely sung middle verse". The text of the original poem was sent by Spring Rice to William Jennings Bryan in a letter shortly before his death in February 1918.
The poem circulated privately for a few years, until it was set to music by Holst, to a tune he adapted from his Jupiter to fit the words of the poem. It was performed as a unison song with orchestra in the early 1920s, and it was finally published as a hymn in 1925/6 in the Songs of Praise hymnal (no. 188).
It was included in later hymnals, including:
|Songs of praise : enlarged edition||1931||319|
|Songs of Praise for America||1938||43|
|The Book of Common Praise: being the hymn book of The Church of England in Canada||1939||805|
|Hymns Ancient & Modern, Revised||1950||579|
|Songs of Praise for Schools||1957||49|
|Church Hymnal, Fourth Edition||1960||312|
|Hymns Ancient & Modern, New Standard Edition||1983||295|
|Common Praise: A new edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern||2000||355|
|Church Hymnary (4th ed.)||2005||704|
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 co-operation 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.
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.
The original first verse of Spring-Rice's poem Urbs Dei / The Two Father Lands (1908-1912), never set to music, was as follows:
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 around 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.
- It was sung at the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill on 30 January 1965.
- 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.
- In August 2004, Stephen Lowe, Bishop of Hulme criticised the hymn in a diocese newsletter, calling it "heretical".
- It featured in the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Summer Paralympics.
- It was played at former Prime Minister of Australia Gough Whitlam's state funeral service in 2014.
- Was sung at the Centenary Memorial of the Battle of Delville Wood in 2016 at St Andrews College, Grahamstown in South Africa.
- It is the school hymn of St Paul's Girls' School, Wykeham House School and The Diocesan College, and the "house hymn" of Edith Nainby at Havergal College, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
- Vice Squad – 1982 album Stand Strong Stand Proud – first two lines are used as an intro to song Propaganda.
- Charlotte Church – debut album Voice of an Angel (1998).
- Libera – 2003 album Free.
- G4 – album G4 & Friends (2005).
- England cricket team – backing vocals for Keedie Babb (as B-side to Jerusalem, 2005).
- Katherine Jenkins – album Living a Dream (2005).
- Alfie Boe – album You'll Never Walk Alone (2007).
- Blake – album Together (2009).
- Nick Moss, soundtrack to Upstairs Downstairs TV series, episode "The Love That Pays the Price" (season 2, episode 2, aired October 2012), the hymn is played in the background of the Kindertransport scene.
- Beck Goldsmith, trailer for BBC drama series The Village 2013.
- The song is sung in the finale to the 2014 production of Henry V by Australia's Bell Shakespeare company.
- Marina Prior and Mark Vincent covered the song on their album Together (2016).
- "Cecil Spring-Rice: Singing the Unsung Hero". Foreign and Commonwealth Office. 4 June 2013. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
- Bernard Simon, This memorial is poetic justice for Sir Cecil Spring-Rice The Telegraph, 31 May 2013. Mark Browse, O Little Town: Hymn-tunes and the places that inspired them (2015), p. 69.
- editions cited after Harry Plantinga, hymnary.org
- "I Vow to Thee, My Country". G4 Central. Retrieved 31 August 2007.
- Vaughan Williams & Shaw, Songs of Praise, Oxford University Press 1926
- Holst, Imogen (1974). A Thematic Catalogue of Gustav Holst's Music. Faber. p. 145.
- Songs of Praise (1925), no. 188; c.f. oremus.org (online transcription)
- published in 1929 in The Letters and Friendships of Sir Cecil Spring Rice (p. 433).
- "The sound of silence". BBC News Online. 14 November 2005. Retrieved 20 April 2007.
- "I vow to thee, my Country". 15 March 2015. Archived from the original on 31 July 2012.
- "What time is Margaret Thatcher's funeral? Guest list, date, cost, travel and all the details". 16 April 2013.
- "According to the Daily Telegraph, Bishop Lowe claimed the rise in English nationalism had parallels "with the rise of Nazism. Later, he told Sky News that the paper had misreported him when it said he had called for the hymn to be banned. [...] A spokesman for the Church of England said the bishop was entitled to his own opinions. " Mark Oliver, Hymn has racist overtones, says bishop, The Guardian 12 August 2004. Gerry Hanson, Patriotism and sacrifice. The Diocese of Oxford Reporter, 28 September 2004. Today programme (13 August 2004). "I Vow To Thee My Country". BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 31 August 2007. Hanson, Gerry (28 September 2004). "Patriotism and Sacrifice". Diocese of Oxford Reporter. Archived from the original on 8 July 2007. Retrieved 1 September 2007.
- "St Paul's Girls' School".
- Robinson, Shirleene; Sleight, Simon (17 November 2015). Children, Childhood and Youth in the British World. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 9781137489418.