6. I Vow To Thee My Country
I Vow To Thee My Country, for those who live off-planet, starts as follows:
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;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.
It is scandalous "my country right or wrong" jingoism at its coarsest, it is Boris Johnsonian from its roots to its eyeballs. It's what remains wrong with England. I'm horrified that it has just been voted sixth place in a poll to find the nation's favourite hymns. I'm horrified it even has a place at the Albert Hall every year.
The lyrics are adapted from a poem which is, to be frank, poor counterfeit Kipling. Kipling did this sort of thing much more equivocally, he actually considered his words. Here's Sir Cecil Spring-Rice's original:
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 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.
Anyone who reads that and fails to hear Kipling is tone-deaf. This is Kipling on the same theme with much the same rhythm:
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin' lazy at the sea,
There's a Burma girl a-settin', and I know she thinks o' me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say:
"Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay! "
- which was, people might remember, just one of Boris Johnson's faux-pas while Foreign Secretary.
Johnsonâ€™s impromptu recital was so embarrassing that the UK ambassador to Myanmar, Andrew Patrick, was forced to stop him. The incident was captured by a film crew for Channel 4 and will form part of a documentary to be broadcast on Sunday about the fitness of the MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip to become prime minister.
You don't remember, but I remember. Once is enough.