I Vow to Thee, My Country

"I Vow to Thee, My Country" is a British patriotic hymn,[1] created in 1921, when music by Gustav Holst had a poem by Sir Cecil Spring Rice set to it. The music originated as a wordless melody, which Holst later named "Thaxted", taken from the "Jupiter" movement of Holst's 1917 suite The Planets.

I Vow to Thee, My Country
GenreHymn
Written1921
TextCecil Spring Rice
Meter13.13.13.13 D
Melody"Thaxted" by Gustav Holst

HistoryEdit

 
Sir Cecil Spring Rice

The origin of the hymn's text is a poem by diplomat Sir Cecil Spring Rice, written 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.[citation needed]

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".[2] 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.[3]

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).[4]

It was included in later hymnals, including:[5]

Publication Year No.
Songs of praise: enlarged edition 1931 319
Methodist Hymn Book 1933 900
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

TuneEdit

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.[6]

In 1926, Holst harmonised the tune to make it usable as a hymn, which was included in the hymnal Songs of Praise.[7] 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".[8]

 

LyricsEdit

The hymn as printed in Songs of Praise (1925) consisted only of the two stanzas of the 1918 version, credited "Words: Cecil Spring-Rice, 1918; Music: Thaxted", as follows:[9]

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 questions, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;[10]
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,[11]
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.[12]

The final line of the second stanza is based on Proverbs 3:17, "Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace" (KJV), in the context of which the feminine pronoun refers to Wisdom.

The original first stanza of Spring-Rice's poem "Urbs Dei"/"The Two Father Lands" (1908–1912), never set to music, was as follows:[13]

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,[14]
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.

Contemporary useEdit

 
"I Vow to Thee, My Country" is popularly sung at Remembrance Day services

First performed in 1921, it is still associated with Remembrance Day services all over the Commonwealth of Nations.[15]

In popular cultureEdit

  • The hymn is sung in The Crown, Season 1, Episode 1 (2016), as Winston Churchill enters Westminster Abbey for the marriage of Princess Elizabeth to Philip Mountbatten.[19]
  • Julian Mitchell's 1981 play Another Country and its 1984 film version derive their titles from the words of the second stanza.[20]

ReceptionEdit

In August 2004, Stephen Lowe, Bishop of Hulme criticised the hymn in a diocese newsletter, calling it "heretical" because of its nationalist overtones.[21]

"I Vow to Thee, My Country" was voted as the UK's sixth favourite hymn in a 2019 poll by the BBC's Songs of Praise.[22]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Jessica Elgot (10 November 2013). "'I Vow To Thee My Country' Could Be 'Obscene', Says Church Of England Vicar Gordon Giles". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 11 March 2017.
  2. ^ "Cecil Spring-Rice: Singing the Unsung Hero". Foreign and Commonwealth Office. 4 June 2013. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ "Treasure No 47: I Vow To Thee My Country". Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Retrieved 6 April 2021.
  5. ^ editions cited after Harry Plantinga, hymnary.org
  6. ^ "I Vow to Thee, My Country". G4 Central. Archived from the original on 29 September 2007. Retrieved 31 August 2007.
  7. ^ Vaughan Williams & Shaw, Songs of Praise, Oxford University Press 1926
  8. ^ Holst, Imogen (1974). A Thematic Catalogue of Gustav Holst's Music. Faber. p. 145.
  9. ^ Songs of Praise (1925), no. 188; c.f. oremus.org (online transcription)
  10. ^ This is reminiscent of God's command to Abraham in The Book of Genesis 22: "Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering"
  11. ^ The mention of "increasing bounds" recalls a similar phrase in Land of Hope and Glory, written two decades earlier - but there the reference is to the mundane bounds of the British Empire.
  12. ^ "All her paths are peace" is a direct quote from The Book of Proverbs, 3, 17 - where "she" is Wisdom.
  13. ^ published in 1929 in The Letters and Friendships of Sir Cecil Spring Rice (p. 433).
  14. ^ The sword and helmet were among the customary attributes of Britannia in 19th and early 20th Century depictions.
  15. ^ "The sound of silence". BBC News Online. 14 November 2005. Retrieved 20 April 2007.
  16. ^ "I vow to thee, my Country". 15 March 2015. Archived from the original on 31 July 2012.
  17. ^ "What time is Margaret Thatcher's funeral? Guest list, date, cost, travel and all the details". Daily Mirror. 16 April 2013.
  18. ^ "St Paul's Girls' School". Archived from the original on 15 June 2013. Retrieved 13 April 2013.
  19. ^ "The Crown, Season 1 Soundtrack". Retrieved 26 April 2020.
  20. ^ Childs, Peter (2006). Texts: Contemporary Cultural Texts and Critical Approaches: Contemporary Cultural Texts and Critical Approaches. Edinburgh University Press. p. 101. ISBN 9780748629183. Retrieved 3 August 2017.
  21. ^ "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.
  22. ^ "World War One hymn is nation's favourite". BBC News. 29 September 2019. Retrieved 24 April 2021.

External linksEdit