I Vow to Thee My Country

Words: Cecil A. Spring-Rice, 1918

Music: “Thaxted,” Gustav T. Holst, The Planets, 1921

The hymn was composed after the Great war, the first verse is in reference to England, the second to Heaven. In recent times the song has been most famous for being Princess Diana’s favourite song. She requested it for her wedding and it was sung at her funeral.

Rugby fans will also know the music as the theme for the Rugby Union World Cup, ‘The World in Union’.

In our polls I Vow to Thee My Country was placed third amongst the contenders to replace God Save the Queen.

The hymn made the headlines in 2004 when the Bishop of Hulme denounced it as heretical:

“It actually says we’re going to support my country whatever it says, entire and whole and perfect, the love unquestioned, which is in the first verse of the hymn, right or wrong,”

“That, I’m afraid, is actually heretical because it actually says that my country’s approach to things must be my first call on myself and that my relationship with God or what I believe to be right or wrong is secondary to that.”

“It’s saying my country right or wrong,” he continued. “I don’t think anybody could actually say they could adopt an approach whereby they said they would not ask any questions of their government and their policies and so on.”

I Vow to Thee My Country

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.

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This land that has fought off every invader for 1,000 years, this nation that is synonymous with the concept of freedom, this jewel in a silver sea, this England – will bellow that endlessly depressing, forelock-tugging dirge. — Tony Parsons, The Mirror

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