Wednesday 21 April 2010
I Vow to Thee, My Country is arguably one of the greatest patriotic songs ever written, and would be my personal choice for an anthem for England. The words come from a poem by Sir Cecil Spring-Rice set to the music of Gustav Holst and published just after the First World War.
Nominally it’s a hymn, and is sung in church as such, but it’s really a paean to the great national sacrifice made during the War, an offering on the alter of the God of Battles, Mars himself. It’s for this reason that the second verse is now omitted. It’s even been called ‘heretical.’ But I would have it, and have it in all of its glory.
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.