Invictus

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.

William Ernest Henley


Invictus which is Latin for unconquered is an incredibly famous poem written by William Ernest Henley in 1875. It has become renowned as an ode to resilience, to remain steadfast in the face of great adversity. It has given inspiration to many great men and women, that despite the difficulties that they may have, that they are the masters of their own fate, and if they remain strong that they will remain unbowed and in full control of their destiny.

One such man who was inspired by this poem is Nelson Mandela, who recited the poem to himself while imprisoned for 27 years, 18 of which spent in the Robben Island prison. The poem inspired him and his fellow prisoners to stay strong, despite the immense challenges that they were faced with. The poem helped grant Mandela with the strength to lead the country of South Africa, the first black person who achieved such a feat.

The poem is itself rumored to be inspired by the great difficulties the poet himself experienced in life. When Henley was only 16, he required an amputation of one of his legs due to complications due to tuberculosis. Later in his life, his remaining leg began to suffer and he was told that it would also require amputation.

However, he chooses to travel up north to Edinburgh instead, a long way away from Margate where he was informed of the potential need for amputation, especially back in the Victorian Era. When he arrived, he was, fortunately, able to enlist the services of the famed English surgeon Joseph Lister, who was able to save the remaining leg after multiple surgeries on his food.

It was when Henley was recovering from these surgeries in the hospital that he wrote the verses to the poem Invictus. A tribute to the stoicism in the Victorian age, the self-disciple and fortitude that came as part of the ‘stiff upper lip’ mindset that was deeply rooted in the country at the time. A mindset that likely helped gave Henley the fortitude and drive to continue on and make the most of life, even while missing a leg.

It is worth taking inspiration from this great poem. Remembering that despite the bludgeonings of chance that you can remain strong, that you can remain the master of your own fate. That come what may, you can still tackle life headfirst, not being afraid of what the future holds and being fully able to shape your own destiny.

Published by Duncan Hookey

A British/Canadian writer who writes about various topics related to how to make the most out of life.

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