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.
Words by Sir Cecil Spring-Rice, Thaxted tune by Gustav Holst.
I heard this hymn in church last Memorial Day. The prose of the title itself caught me; the phraseology was like poetry. How does one “vow to thee, my country”? A little research turned up a beautiful story about this hymn.
“I Vow to Thee, My Country” is one of the most revered hymns in Great Britain and throughout the Commonwealth of Nations. It was written in 1908 by Cecil Spring-Rice, who rewrote the lyrics in 1918 after WWI. The first verse proclaims the individual’s love and committment to their country, the second verse reflects on the incredible number of lives given in service to their country – the soldiers’ ultimate sacrifice out of duty and love for their nation, and the third verse refers to the spiritual Kingdom, one with a King, where peace reigns eternal.
This poignant hymn has become an integral part of Remembrance Day services in Great Britain. Remembrance Day honors the war dead from all their wars. In America, we have Memorial Day, which was originally called Decoration Day, and had its start in the period after the Civil War when flower tributes were placed on the graves of both union and confederate war dead buried in Arlington National Cemetery. In 1868, the day was officially recognized as Memorial Day, and eventually all the states accepted the honoring of war dead from both sides of the Civil War. After WWl, all who had died in service to America, during any war, were included.
Memorial Day is the most solemn and sacred occasion we traditional, freedom loving Americans observe. It isn’t about barbecues, it isn’t the sales at the mall, it isn’t even the family gathering…unless it is meeting at the local or national cemetery where small American flags are placed on the graves of our fallen soldiers, sailors, and airmen who gave their lives for our freedom, here and elsewhere in the world. These are the men and women who died for love of God and Country, adding up to incredible numbers, and still they sacrifice today so that America remains free. It is a debt we can never repay, but we can remember and honor their sacrifice.
Remembering and honoring those who have gone before us leads me back to the title – “I vow to thee, my country.” Those words stayed in my heart ever since I first heard them; they’re there now, almost like a chant. Never has it been more important to set ourselves the task of serving and defending America. We often think of America’s enemies as foreign, but this generation is facing domestic threats, as well, to the precious gift of freedom bestowed by our Founding Fathers, and paid for with the blood of our servicemen and women. Every day, as we struggle to take back our government and our freedom from those who would so easily discard it, let us vow to our country, America. Let us vow our love, our service, our devotion, our sacrifice, and even the ultimate sacrifice, so that America remains free and those men and women who have gone before us shall not have died in vain.
Below is a partial video of the funeral of a great statesman, Winston Churchill, who vowed to save his country, Great Britain. The music is Holst’s “I Vow To Thee, My Country.”
“Victory—victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival. We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end.”
Featured Image: The U.S. cemetery in Cambridge, England, contains the remains of 3,812 of American war dead from World War II.