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Vitai Lampada

30 minutes
First broadcast:
Sunday 22 April 2012

Henry Newbolt's poem Vitai Lampada - better known to most by its rousing chorus "play up, play up and play the game!"- seems at first sight to be a product solely of its time and place: he wrote it at the end of the 19th century and it features cricket, war and a public school ethos about sport and leadership. However, as Peggy Reynolds unpacks the poem and talks to people who still know it, some surprises emerge.

  • Vitaï 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 its 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!"

    Henry Newbolt


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