Vitai Lampada

Authors love to read. Obviously right? But so do warriors. We study history of warfare. We read up on potential adversaries. We pour over manuals. But we also read fiction and yes, even poetry. Some of the great poets were warriors. There is something about the inescapable nature of the raw emotion combat creates that is fertile soil for budding minds.

At West Point, my roommate Andy Ziebell pointed me to Vitai Lampada, by Sir Henry Newbolt. I have often turned to this poem for comfort and inspiration. While Sir Henry Newbolt’s inspiration for the poem was the fighting in the deserts of the Sudan, the truths it spoke applied to the sands and asphalt of Iraq. It is the fellow warriors, past and present that are the Vital Lampada, the torch of life, to inspire the warriors of the present and future.

I find myself in need of some literary inspiration right now. So I turn once again to Sir Henry Newbolt.

Assembly for lunch at West Point. This is where my company formed up. We lived on the second floor.

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 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 Honor 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 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, 1892

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