Once was an Empire

The sand of the desert is sodden red

Red with the blood of a square that broke

The Gatling’s jammed and the Colonel’s dead

And the Regiment blind with dust and smoke

The river of death has brimmed his banks

And England’s far, and Honour and name

But the voice of a school boy rallies the ranks:

“Play up! Play up! And play the game!”

Vitai Lampada (They Pass On The Torch of Life), Sir Henry Newbolt (1862-1938)

I’m on the road again today with an early start so here’s another quote from my little notebook to keep things alive…the full text can be read here.  I like how this article on the University of St Andrew’s site describes Vitai Lampada:

Henry Newbolt’s Vitai Lampada was typical of the war poem of the 1890’s, aping the heroic images of Tennyson: “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!’” The intention of this kind of poetry was to stir the heart of the reader with pride and fill the head with awe at the magnificent bravery that separated the Englishman from his rivals on the battlefield. It allowed people from any social class to feel that they were part of something precious. Certainly, Vitai Lampada was hugely popular with soldiers and public alike upon its publication in 1898, but by this time a new kind of war poem was coming to prominence, one whose roots lay in the growth of radical thought and humanitarian opposition to war.

In looking up Vitai Lampada, I came across this opening paragraph of a review of  a book [Martha Nussbaum, Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. 751 pp.]:

In my far-off, happy, schooldays there was always one thing above all of which you had not to stand guilty. This was lack of moral fiber. Intelligence and learning were a bonus, but moral fiber was an essential. It produced regular, strenuous boys ready to meet the kinds of ideal celebrated by our school poet, Sir Henry Newbolt. When the Gatling was jammed and the colonel dead, and the sands of the desert were sodden red, the voice of the schoolboy would be heard, calling on everyone to play up, play up, and play the game, so very like Tony Blair and George Bush do today, albeit keeping themselves at a safer distance from the sodden desert.

So very right, when it all unravels, all you can do is stand up and play the game – or activate your exit strategy and bail to leave someone else holding the baby…


Not sure why yesterday’s post didn’t go out as scheduled – most likely operator error at this end! Still, I had a great visit to the Air Power Development Centre yesterday morning, and spent the afternoon with a Kiwi entrepreneur working on a very cool development project…hopefully more to follow on that one in the New Year…

My Creative MP3 player has now finally gone completely toes up – it has had a very hard life – and I need to find an inexpensive (see comment re very hard life) replacement that it is hopefully Audible-compatible as I miss my talking books when on the road.

It was nice to visit civilisation for a day but good to get home last night except that IT WAS STILL BLOODY RAINING here – how is anyone meant to dry grass for hay when it keeps BLOODY RAINING…?

2 thoughts on “Once was an Empire

  1. Pingback: Kiwi entrpreneur takes another step forwards « The World According to Me…

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