Take of English earth as much
As either hand may rightly clutch.
In the taking of it breathe Prayer for all who lie beneath.
Not the great nor well-bespoke, But the mere uncounted folk
Of whose life and death is none Report or lamentation.
Lay that earth upon thy heart, And thy sickness shall depart!
Others may wish to argue otherwise but there's a case - a strong case - to describe England as the greatest nation the world has ever seen. There is no other country with borders unchanged for over 1000 years. There is no other land with a bigger contribution to science, to literature, to mankind's thought.
But it's not the great and good that make England great. It's the uncounted folk that Kipling invokes in his charm - ordinary people who did things. When you marvel at the green splendour of England, you're encouraged to think of nature, to dream a bucolic dream. But stop a minute. Who planted those hedgerows, built those stone walls, coppiced those woods, drained those fens? It wasn't nature, it wasn't the great and good, it was the ordinary men and women of England.
And think again when some tour guide talks about the great figures who laid out our city street, the bishops who ordered the building of cathedrals, the bearded Victorians who instructed that town halls and art galleries were constructed. Think about the unremembered artisans who carved the stones, the sturdy blokes who dug the drains and laid the footings of our towns. Consider the women who baked the bread, made the pies and served the ale.
This is England. Not some half-remembered chronology of famous men. Not an artificial thing drawn up by some ancient lords. And not a little place.
England is huge. It's not just the fifty million people. Nor is it the wealth and power of our industry and commerce. It isn't the guns, bombs, ships and tanks of the World's best armed forces. It's not even the best universities and finest schools on the planet. Or the traditions of art, theatre, music and song. England is huge because of what its ordinary men and women will do tomorrow - innovative, creative, inspiring, adventurous, challenging and spirited. Anyone who calls England 'little' has given up on those men and women - the old ones long gone in Kipling's charm, the ones here now doing great things in a small way, and the ones still to come who will take England's greatness even further.
To say that my country is small, to use that sneering put down 'Little Englander', is to deny our history. It shows a disrespect of those people - ordinary men and women - who built the finest place on earth for us to enjoy. Worse, it insults the English and the idea of England - an idea that is made by the people who call this place home:
For sure, England is about tradition, heritage, old ale and new cider. Absolutely, England is about the towns and the roads, the shared history pounded into those places by our ancestors. Of course England is about achievements, things built and seas sailed. But England is more than that, it is our place of comfort, our familiar, our home. It is not Britain -that is for monarchs, prime ministers, it is a thing of empires or governments and a grand thing too. England is where our boots mark the soil, it is the thing that makes our hearts sing. It is home.
Perhaps I should embrace the insult and proudly say I'm a 'Little Englander'. Except I'm not, I'm a Big Englander, a Great Englander, a Brave Englander, a Strong Englander because England is all those things and more - big, great, brave, strong, beautiful, magical, charming...a thousand adjectives that can tell of what the English have achieved, what we're creating today, and what we'll achieve tomorrow. England is not little, it is the greatest place on earth. It is my country. And my home.
Shall I dog his morning progress o'er the track-betraying dew ?
Demand his dinner-basket into which my pheasant flew ?
Confiscate his evening faggot under which my conies ran,
And summons him to judgment ? I would sooner summons Pan.
His dead are in the churchyard—thirty generations laid.
Their names were old in history when Domesday Book was made;
And the passion and the piety and prowess of his line
Have seeded, rooted, fruited in some land the Law calls mine.