An inspiring and famous poem you are unlikely to have encountered at school

Why? Because it is patriotic, though in an understated British way. It is about the attitudes that built the British empire. It points out the transferability of attitudes learnt in elite private school sport (in this case cricket) to the wider world. The allusion to a Gatling (an early machine gun) probably places it in the days of the Boer war. In one word, it is about doggedness or "sticking to it" in the face of difficulty: Never give up. I hope some readers like the poem as much as I do. It is at least a glimpse into another world

Vitai Lampada

("They Pass On The Torch of Life")

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!'

By Sir Henry Newbolt (1862-1938)


  1. My father, who died in 1989, aged 66, would occasionally say, "Play up! Play up! and play the game!" and I used to assume he was quoting from somewhere, but I never knew where it came from.

    Thanks for that.

  2. In cricket, as in life...

    It seems to pre-date the Boer War. Maybe it refers to Sudan?

    He had quite an interesting personal life, if Wikipedia is to be believed...

  3. Reading past the lesbian bit in Wikipedia, I read the poem refers to the unsuccessful rescue of Gordon. Stirring stuff.


All comments containing Chinese characters will not be published as I do not understand them