I Vow to Thee, My Country is a British patriotic song created in 1921 when a poem by Sir Cecil Spring-Rice was set to music by Gustav Holst.
The origin of the lyric is a poem by diplomat Cecil Spring-Rice which he wrote in 1908 whilst posted to the British Embassy in Stockholm. Then called Urbs Dei 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 Americans 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.
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 harmonised the tune to make it usable as a hymn, which was included in Songs of Praise in 1926 with the same words, 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 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.
- It was featured in a Top Gear episode where Jeremy Clarkson drives a Land Rover Discovery up Cnoc an Fhreiceadain.
- In August 2004, the Right Reverend Stephen Lowe, Bishop of Hulme, called for it 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 music of Thaxted is often used in a number of common Christian hymns.
- It was chosen by Phil Archer, a fictional character from the British BBC Radio 4 soap opera The Archers, to be played in his memorial service.
- It was chosen by Johnny Worricker, a fictional character from the movie Page Eight to be played at the memorial service of his friend Benedict Baron.
- It is the school hymn of Diocesan College, Cape Town, South Africa. The song is also sung in a war-chant version at rugby matches. The verses are sung in the order 1 and then 3 and sometimes verse 2 is sung at the end.
- The tune is shared with "World In Union", the official theme song of the Rugby World Cup.
- It was used by the Japanese figure skater Mao Asada ( ) in one of her 2011-12 exhibition programs.
- It was performed by folk singer Fash Stewart as part of his set at Tartan Heart Festival in 2011.
- It was sung as part of the Festival of Remembrance in 2011, where the third line of the last verse was changed to "...,we may not see her Queen"
- American choral composer Z. Randall Stroope incorporated the first verse and other texts to compose "Homeland" for choir and wind ensemble (or choir and orchestra). The music includes Holst's theme as well as original material by Stroope.
- It was performed at the Diamond Jubilee Concert during the firework display in the Grand Finale.
The third verse is a possible source for the title to both the play and the film Another Country, where the hymn is sung.
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