I Vow to Thee, My Country
is a British patriotic song
created in 1921 when a poem
by Cecil Spring-Rice
was set to music by Gustav Holst
The origin of the lyrics
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 first verse, as then written, had a direct and heated patriotism of a kind which has become less popular since the First World War
In 1912, Spring-Rice was sent to Washington, D.C. as Ambassador to the United States of America where he worked to influence the administration of Woodrow Wilson to abandon neutrality and join Britain and her Empire 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 is a reference to England and 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; the resulting hymn tune
is usually referred to as Thaxted
(named after the village where Holst lived for many years). This was first performed in 1925 and became a common element at Armistice
- 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.
The lyrics as usually sung omit the middle verse as not being suitable for modern use.
Contemporary religious use