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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!"

Vitaï Lampada, Henry Newbolt's most well known poem, was written in 1897. The Close, is of course, the famous Close at Clifton College.

The phrase Vitaï Lampada is from a quotation from Lucretius' De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of the Universe) and means literally the torch of life (lampada = the torch and vitaï = of life).

The complete quotation goes:
Augescunt aliae gentes, aliae minuuntur,
inque brevi spatio mutantur saecla animantum
et quasi cursores vitai lampada tradunt.
Which translates as:
Some races increase, others are reduced,
And in a short time the generations of living creatures are changed
And like runners they pass on the torch of life.

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