As the Duke of Wellington declared the Battle of Waterloo was won on the Playing Fields of Eton - that those who have a stake in society will fight to preserve it, those who play the game play it to win. 
It was the Victorian ethos to believe that the preservation of Empire depended upon patriotic zeal, faith in God and the masculine virtues learned in the arena of competitive sports. 
No poem reinforces this view better than Vitai Lampada penned in 1892 by the lawyer and academic Henry John Newbolt with its emphasis on duty, discipline, commitment, comradeship, selflessness, and fair play. 
With reference to the Battle of Abu Klea in 1885, and the attempt to rescue General Gordon at Khartoum, Newbolt draws direct parallels between the cricket field as an arena of conflict and the battlefield. That lessons learned as a child in play would serve the Empire well in times of conflict, sporting virtues are also martial virtues. 
It may take a leap of the imagination for us to understand why this poem along with Kipling’s If, Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade and so many others written with a moral and for a purpose would have been known by heart by every school child in Victorian Britain. But then the past is a different, and better, country. 
Vitai 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 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!" 
Tagged as: Poetry, Victorian
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