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

Let’s be clear: I am not a poetry kind of guy. But some verse has such a soul-enlivening power that it is worth study. Vitae Lampada (The Torch of Life) by Sir Henry Newbolt is one such verse. It’s not as often quoted as ‘Invictus’ or other such poems, but I believe it has more substance to it.

Though the poem makes reference to a British square of soldiers being broken in the Sudan, it’s really about running a good race in life and the importance of passing on values to the generations after us. In the poem the ‘schoolboy’ soldier remembers his old Captain’s words, and rallies his regiment.

This poem is worth memorizing.