Online Essay Competition 2012 Olympics

“Sword Songs” is no fewer than 37 pages long, broken into four parts, set in different historical ages and dedicated to Capt. Alfred Hutton of the King’s Dragoon Guards. We can only ask Lei Sheng of China and Elisa Di Francisca of Italy, gold medal winners both, what inspiration modern fencers might draw from the poem’s epic sweep, or its assertion that the chivalric values of beauty, valor and honor are behind every contest. As Stuart grandly declares, in Homeric tones, “I sing of the spirit that dwells in the bright gray blade.”

Part 1, a little disconcertingly, is set in 103 A.D. in the amphitheater of Rome, where two gladiators face off for the entertainment of Emperor Trajan:

Without a sound the darting swooping strokes

Fall on unguarded flesh...

Far off, there thrills one faint, high scream ...

With an angry gasp,

He dies.

Part 2 is marginally more civilized: we leap to “circa 1495” Edinburgh, where a Scottish and a Dutch warrior duel with two-handed swords before King James IV.

Each sought to thrust the narrow point

Swiftly into some crack or joint,

Or else to stun and overwhelm

With blows on vambrace or on helm.

By Part 3, we are in Renaissance France, where gallants fight with one-handed swords in 1547. One sinks his blade into his opponent’s leg:

Then, wide-eyed, ashen-lipped

I saw his face tilt forward as he stood,

While down his thigh ran glittering spurts of blood

That made the fair sand into deadly mire.

Finally, in Part 4, a duel takes place in Dunkerque in 1785 with more elegant, rapierlike “small swords,” over the favors of a woman.

A space is cleared. They bow. They start.

A snap of steel — a thrust in quarte;

The watching ladies clap and laugh ...

Here Stuart comes closer to the modern realm, as the swordsmen fight not for blood, but, more sportingly, to lop buttons off the opponent’s shirt.

The clashing of the thin grey swords,

The click of heels upon the boards,

The hiss of coat-sleaves strained and slit,

Drowns the faint sounds of buttons hit.

In an epilogue, Stuart declares that the noble qualities of swordsmanship have a direct lineage from the fields of ancient Greece to the fencing courts of Paris:

Beauty, — the form of the blade, and Valour, —

its force,

And Honour, — its deathless soul, I have sung of them all:

Now that the brief songs end, I have finished my course.

Although “Sword Songs,” published when Stuart was 35, was her most celebrated work, historians have been unfair to suggest that she slipped into obscurity. When Stuart died in 1963, at age 74, an obituary in The Times of London noted that she had become a prolific biographer of historical figures, with more than two dozen books and verse collections to her name. Although none remain in print, her Olympic silver medal winner, at least, can now re-emerge into the light.

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It takes more than being an exceptional sportsman or woman to become part of the Olympics or Paralympics. This is why both games come with a set of core values which encompass what these competitions are all about proving that sport even at this level, is not just about your ability.

The Olympic Values are

  • respect – fair play; knowing one’s own limits; and taking care of one’s health and the environment
  • excellence – how to give the best of oneself, on the field of play or in life; taking part; and progressing according to one’s own objectives
  • friendship – how, through sport, to understand each other despite any differences

The Paralympics

The Paralympic games began life as a sports competition involving World War II veterans, with serious back injuries, in Stoke Mandeville, England. Following this initial competition, international attention grew as competitors from overseas, beginning with athletes from The Netherlands, added strength to the idea until the first official Olympic style games for athletes with a disability were organised in Rome in 1960. It was not until Toronto 1976, however, that other disability groups were added along with a broader spectrum of disciplines. It was here that the picture that is the modern Paralympic games began to emerge alongside the first Paralympic Winter Games which took place in Sweden on the same year.

The Paralympic Values are based on the history of the Paralympic Games and the tradition of fair play and honourable sports competition. Some say that in this particular competition the values are even more important than in any other.

The Paralympic Values are:

  • Determination – the drive and motivation to overcome both physical and mental barriers in order to achieve your goals.
  • Courage – having the self-belief and confidence to overcome adversity and face difficulty.
  • Equality – showing respect and humility towards all those around you in the spirit of fair play.
  • Inspiration – to be motivated by the achievements and actions of others and to be a positive example to others.


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