Invictus by William Ernest Henley
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.
Every time I come across a piece of art that I like, I will always find out more about the artist and the story behind it. Be it a photograph, a song, a poetry, a painting or a sculpture. Knowing the history and the story behind it, really helps me to understand and empathize with the message that the artist tries to bring across. Believe me, you will truly appreciate art a lot more this way. The art becomes alive, right in front of you.
Invictus means “unconquerable” or “undefeated” in Latin. The poem was written while the author, William Ernest Henley was in the hospital for tuberculosis of the bone. He had the disease since he was very young. His foot had been amputated because of the illness, shortly before he wrote the poem.
This poem is about courage in the face of death and holding on to one’s dignity despite tremendous challenges and indignities one face.
*While incarcerated at Robben Island prison, Nelson Mandela recited the poem to other prisoners and was empowered by its message of self-mastery.
*The Burmese opposition leader and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi stated, “This poem had inspired my father, Aung San, and his contemporaries during the independence struggle, as it also seemed to have inspired freedom fighters in other places at other times.”
*The poem was read by US POWs in North Vietnamese prisons. James Stockdale recalls being passed the last stanza, written with rat droppings on toilet paper, from fellow prisoner David Hatcher.