Vitai Lampada – Henry Newbolt – Comments

Vitai Lampada
There's a breathless hush in the Close to-night—
Ten to make and the match to win—
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play and the last man in.
And it's not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
Or the selfish hope of a season's fame,
But his captain's hand on his shoulder smote
'Play up! play up! and play the game! '

The sand of the desert is sodden red,—
Red with the wreck of a square that broke; —
The Gatling's jammed and the Colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed his banks,
And England's far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks:
'Play up! play up! and play the game! '

This is the word that year by year,
While in her place the school is set,
Every one of her sons must hear,
And none that hears it dare forget.
This they all with a joyful mind
Bear through life like a torch in flame,
And falling fling to the host behind—
'Play up! play up! and play the game!
Sir Henry Newbolt (1862 – 1938)

Born in Bilston, Staffordshire in 1862, Newbolt was educated at Clifton School and Oxford University. After his studies Newbolt became a barrister. Higly respected, Newbolt was a lawyer, novelist, playwright and magazine editor. Above all, he was a poet who championed the virtues of chivalry and sportsmanship combined in the service of the British Empire.

Written in 1892 Vitaï Lampada was published in Newbolt’s first collection of poetry, Admirals All in 1897. It is probably the best known of all Newbolt’s poems, and for which he is now chiefly remembered. The title is taken from a quotation by Lucretius and means The torch of life. It refers to how a schoolboy, a future soldier, learns selfless commitment to duty in cricket matches in the famous Close at Clifton College. And of course, extension of duty goes far beyond the cricket field.

This is all about playing the game regardless, being part of the team is all important – and concentrating on doing your bit for King and country.

This is a propaganda poem using mate-ship to rally the war cause. And mate-ship is based on that old school tradition of loyalty to your friends. I think times have changed markedly and soldiers have now learned to think for themselves without blindly following orders! Unless of course, they are coerced by authoritarian regimes.

Here is my own propaganda. Seen on the back window of a car parked at the Balloon Festival in Canberra, the following words –
UNITED
in
TRUTH – LOVE – PEACE

Sir Henry Newbolt on Wikipedia … Henry Newbolt – Wikipedia

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