I Vow to Thee, My Country

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"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 while posted to the British Embassy in Stockholm. Then called 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. The lyrics were in part based upon the motto of the Spring family, from whom Spring Rice was descended.[1] The first verse, as originally composed, had an overtly patriotic stance, which typified its pre-World War I 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 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 huge losses suffered by British soldiers during the intervening years. According to Sir Cecil's granddaughter, the three verses were never intended to appear together. The original poem consisted of verses 2 and 3, the amended poem of verses 1 and 3.[2]

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 God's kingdom. The final line is based on Proverbs 3:17, which reads "Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace" in the King James Version.


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.[3] Holst in 1926 harmonised the tune to make it usable as a hymn, which was included in the hymnal Songs of Praise.[4] 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 cooperation 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".[5]


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 waves and waters, she calls and calls to me.
Her sword is girded at her side, her helmet on her head,[6]
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.

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.

Contemporary use

Commercial uses

The third verse is a possible source for the title to both the play and the film Another Country, where the hymn is sung.[citation needed]


  1. David Henry Burton (1990). Cecil Spring Rice: A Diplomat's Life. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. Retrieved 11 September 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Cecil Spring-Rice: Singing the Unsung Hero". Foreign and Commonwealth Office. 4 June 2013. Retrieved 22 November 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "I Vow to Thee, My Country". G4 Central. Retrieved 31 August 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Vaughan Williams & Shaw, Songs of Praise, Oxford University Press 1926
  5. Holst, Imogen (1974). A Thematic Catalogue of Gustav Holst's Music. Faber. p. 145.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. In imagery common at the time of writing, Britannia was habitually depicted girded with a sword and with a helmet on her head
  7. "The sound of silence". BBC News Online. 14 November 2005. Retrieved 20 April 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "I vow to thee, my Country". 15 March 2015. Archived from the original on 31 July 2012. Unknown parameter |dead-url= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "What time is Margaret Thatcher's funeral? Guest list, date, cost, travel and all the details". 16 April 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "St Paul's Girls' School".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Petre, Jonathan; Wynne-Jones, Jonathan (12 August 2004). "Ban this racist hymn, says bishop". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 26 June 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "I Vow To Thee My Country". Today programme, BBC Radio 4. 13 August 2004. Retrieved 31 August 2007. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Hanson, Gerry (28 September 2004). "Patriotism and Sacrifice". Diocese of Oxford Reporter. Archived from the original on 8 July 2007. Retrieved 1 September 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links