The Patriot Game (I)

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13 November 2013


         Vitaï Lampada

There’s a breathless hush in the Close tonight –

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 the 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’s dead,

And the regiment’s 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 world 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 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 !’


This is a poem written in 1892 by English author, barrister and government adviser Henry Newbolt (1862-1938).  The title, meaning “the torch of life” is an expression borrowed from the Roman poet Lucretius (94-55 BC). The poem celebrates the passing of the torch of life from one generation to the next. It is also a hymn to the supposed virtue of patriotic duty inculcated into the children of the ruling class at English private schools in 19 C. Newbolt himself was head boy at Clifton School in Bristol. The schoolboy in the poem learns his selfless commitment to duty as a result of playing a straight bat during cricket matches that took place in the close at Clifton. Later, as an army officer, he puts what he has learned to good use as a leader of men on the battlefield. There is a saying in England that “the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of Eton”. Eton was the school attended by the Duke of Wellington, who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815.


 You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts.  For instance:

1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)

2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)

3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)

4. Capitalism in practice  (4 July 2012) 

5.Ladder  (21 June 2012)

 6. A tale of two cities (1)  (6 June 2012)

 7. A tale of two cities (2)  (7 June 2012)

 8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)

Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.


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