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.

About the Poem

“Invictus” by William Ernest Henley is an inspirational poem. It depicts the poet’s attempt to motivate himself when there is no hope at all. When the poet wrote this poem, he had already lost one of his legs. So, in such a situation of mental and physical agony, the poet tried to lift up his courage.

In the very beginning of the poem, the poet says that he wants to thank God. In fact, he admits that his life has no ray of hope. Rather his future seems to be as dark as a pit. But then also he is grateful to God for his ‘unconquerable soul.’ He says that no pain can be able to curve his soul. In the next stanza, he claims that whenever he fell into some difficulty, he always remained unbeatable. However, situations have tried to destroy him, but he always fights back with courage. In fact, he agrees that sometimes difficulties have made him bleed and suffer. But he never let himself bow before them and cry out of fear.

In the third stanza, the poet says that horror has always lurked behind him. But it always finds him unafraid. Whenever menace or trouble has come into his life, he has faced it bravely. Finally, in the last stanza, Henley says that though the gate of life is narrow, he will definitely pass it with vigor. Moreover, he declares that he is the master of his fate, meaning his fortune. Also, he claims that he is the captain of his soul. Hence, this poem motivates the readers to understand the fact that nobody can control our lives. It only depends on us how we choose to live our lives. Henley ends his poem with a note that one should become the friend, philosopher, and guide of one’s own soul.

My friend Susan sent me this poem. It is one I needed to read yesterday. It spoke to me in the way some poems do when we read them at just the right moment. I had a rough day at work.

About the Poet

Born in Gloucester, England, poet, editor, and critic William Ernest Henley was educated at Crypt Grammar School, where he studied with the poet T.E. Brown and the University of St. Andrews. His father was a struggling bookseller who died when Henley was a teenager. At age twelve, Henley was diagnosed with tubercular arthritis that necessitated the amputation of one of his legs just below the knee; the other foot was saved only through a radical surgery performed by Joseph Lister. 

As he healed in the infirmary, Henley began to write poems, including “Invictus,” which concludes with the oft-referenced lines “I am the master of my fate; / I am the captain of my soul.” Henley’s poems often engage themes of inner strength and perseverance. His numerous collections of poetry include A Book of Verses (1888), London Voluntaries (1893), and Hawthorn and Lavender (1899).

Henley edited the Scots Observer (which later became the National Observer), through which he befriended writer Rudyard Kipling, and the Magazine of Art, in which he lauded the work of emerging artists James McNeill Whistler and Auguste Rodin. Henley was a close friend of Robert Louis Stevenson, who reportedly based his Long John Silver character in Treasure Island in part on Henley.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

3 responses to “Invictus

  • J Craig

    Although this kind of poetry is out of fashion now, I still find it moving and speaking in a way that is both accepting and bold. I think it would be a difficult transition to have this written by a woman whose outlook would be distinctly different. Maybe that’s why it speaks to me as a guy. Thanks for sharing this which I haven’t read for a while.

  • Ryan

    Don’t know which is better, the poem or the analysis.

  • Beau

    This must have inspired the naming of the international tournament of wounded veterans, the Invictus Games. I always wondered from what source the name derived.

Thank you for commenting. I always want to know what you have to say. However, I have a few rules: 1. Always be kind and considerate to others. 2. Do not degrade other people's way of thinking. 3. I have the right to refuse or remove any comment I deem inappropriate. 4. If you comment on a post that was published over 14 days ago, it will not post immediately. Those comments are set for moderation. If it doesn't break the above rules, it will post.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: