Invictus

Invictus


This is a spectacular poem by William Ernest Henley written in 1875. The title means “Unconquered” in Latin. Though I hated English literature in school, as I’ve gotten older I’ve gone back and picked out those classic books we were once forced to read. Within their covers, I’ve found delight and danger, inspiration and wonder at the power of the written word. Unfortunately, I had never heard this poem before listening to it in the excellent movie by the same name. After the movie I found the poem online and was awestruck by its beauty and power. I’m sure you will find the same.

At the age of 12, Henley became a victim of tuberculosis of the bone. A few years later the disease progressed to his foot, and physicians announced that the only way to save his life was to amputate directly below the knee. It was amputated at the age of 25. In 1867 he successfully passed the Oxford local examination as a senior student. In 1875 he wrote the “Invictus” poem from a hospital bed. Despite his disability, he survived with one foot intact and led an active life until his death at the age of 53. He was a friend of Robert Louis Stevenson – Stevenson based the character ‘Long John Silver’ on him.

OUT of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.