William Ernest Henley

(1849 - 1902 / Gloucester / England)

Invictus - Poem 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
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Comments about Invictus by William Ernest Henley

  • Andrew Sumner (7/4/2010 10:13:00 PM)

    Valerie: I believe your apology was to the point...and it appears you have in fact gotten the message yourself...It is clear to me that Mandela's ritual of 'Invictus' has not only taught him to forgive....but has taught us all to share in his forgiveness to others....Well done Valerie....9000 days... (Report) Reply

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  • Gwilym Williams (7/1/2010 2:37:00 PM)

    This poem 'Invictus' is the most visited poem on my blog
    http: //poet-in-residence.blogspot.com

    Almost every day people come to PiR and read 'Invictus'. Yes, it has something. (Report) Reply

  • Gordon Brinson (6/29/2010 1:02:00 PM)

    After hearing this poem a few years ago, and since again hearing it though the Mandela Biography, This poem made so much sense to me it was scary. Recently i learned of Henley's leg amputation just prior to writing this poem and now i know why i like it so much.
    Chris Dardick you are dead on about your point of view with this poem. I went through a similar ordeal as Henley without the amputation. I lost the use of some muscles in my leg from the knee after a horrific accident three years ago. I was told I would not walk again and there was no hope. With a lot of Hard work and surgery I can not only walk but I can run!

    What Henley is telling us is pretty simple He wrote this after a time when he was uncertain and in despair regarding his future. However he planned to push through the adversity with positive thinking and courage. A good percentage of people give up on life when faced with personnel hardship and adversity. Henley is obviously not one of those. One will never know if they are or not until they are in a situation that will reveal such a trait of character.
    Every word of this poem rings through to me at a profoundly deep level. I know I possess such traits as I have overcome the odds and took back my life with great force, although it was not easy.

    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.

    He seems to be speaking of once being in a very dark place in the first two lines. The second two tells us that he is no longer there. Thankful that his soul is still 'unconquerable'. Truly inspirational words.
    That is just my opinion, but the great thing about poetry is everyone can obtain their own meaning.
    Cheers (Report) Reply

  • Chris Dardick (6/25/2010 8:54:00 PM)

    This is a very powerful poem that I think can only be truly understood by those who have experienced extreme suffering and come through with their dignity and soul intact. Fortunately I have not yet had such an experience but I hope to remember these words when that day comes. (Report) Reply

  • Talat Islam (6/25/2010 2:12:00 AM)

    Thank you for your own perspective of the poem. I think the beauty of poetry, compared to prose, is it can mean different things to different persons. The interpretation can even differ by ones state of mind.
    As long as one understands the allusions correctly and can connect the lines logically, I think one has the right to interpret a poem as he understands it.

    I do not view the poem as a pessimistic one but I am also in no real pain. So, I see it as an inspiring one. Had I been in great misery, I could have perceived it differently. But I really liked the way you divided it into a physical and spiritual part. However, I interpreted it as a whole like many other you see here.

    Thank you again!
    - (Report) Reply

  • Edwin Clyburn (6/22/2010 9:34:00 AM)


    I think perspective on this poem is on point, and pl; ease don't be discouraged by those that don't see what you see. As one that writes sermons, I have found this poem to be very useful as It depicts the ebb and flow of life, in my opinion.

    Hensley, in my opinion, is talking about the dark night of the soul, when all of life seems to be covered by darkness, from 'pole to pole'. When everything is so bleak one can not see, there is yet still a light at the end of the tunnel.

    This poem is reflected in the life of Paul the Apostle in so many ways. As many of the situations he found himself in seem to be dark.Yet he found his soul unconquered by the circumstances, he had learned to overcome them all.

    I personally want to thank you for the insight you shared, Sunday's sermon will be be greatly enhance by what you wrote. Keep sharing your thoughts

    RevClyburn (Report) Reply

  • Kathryn Struck (6/20/2010 3:43:00 AM)

    Be aware that you are reading Victorian poetry. The Victorians felt that they were mechanical wizards of all that was technological of the time, They prided themselves of being the solution to all problems of all engineering. So the problems of the soul were another problem to be scientifically confronted and solved. Admit defeat? Not for long. My head is unbowed. I'll take the beating but in the end I will determined my soul's destiny. Very common, strong, unbent Victorian male thinking, especially in contrast to the 'softies' of the previous Romantic age. (Report) Reply

  • Valerie Booth (6/14/2010 8:41:00 PM)

    To Chris- No sooner had I sent out my nasty response to your critique of Henley's poem Invictus, than I regretted it. I was way out of line and am very sorry for my rude, even vicious comments. Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion and this is a forum for opinion, and I should have respected yours- again I am sorry.
    To others whom I may have offended by my remarks- my apologies as well.
    -Bye (Report) Reply

  • Julie Chavira (6/13/2010 5:09:00 PM)

    Valerie... that was just so snarky it served no purpose other than to out you as an insufferable boor. Look it up, get back to me.

    Mindy, slightly less condescending, but no less judgmental.

    Jack, you just flat out crack me up.

    Chris, that poem can mean anything you want it to, my friend. Your perception of it it is just that, your perception. In time, you may find that the meaning changes for you, depending on your situation in life. Happy, sad, uplifting, depressing... it matters not what the author's intent, nor anyone else's opinion, you take from it what you take. I don't know an author of a poem that wouldn't find that acceptable, in fact, ideal. Happy reading, friend, and do your own thing. (Report) Reply

  • Mindy Brown (6/11/2010 10:15:00 PM)

    Thank you Jack! Valerie aside from the condescending tone in your text I wanted to agree with certain parts. Why not show Chris how the poem is actually inspirational instead of calling him a very young, uneducated American? That's just sad. Seek not to label people from their nationality would be a wonderful start as well and age doesn't necessarily mean wise now does it? It is sad that you are so short sighted on both accounts truly. I am an American but I am a person first. Showing a little more love and tolerance in any situation will do wonders for the world in general.

    This poem is absolutely beautiful. Don't beat someone down for not understanding it fully. SHOW THEM. Teaching them through love would be a wonderful start as well............................

    Chris..................read the last two lines over and over and I know it will resonate on an inspirational level soon!

    'I am the master of my fate,
    I am the captain of my soul'

    BEAUTIFUL................. (Report) Reply

  • Jack Coughlan (6/11/2010 2:23:00 PM)

    Valerie, The edge of your wit is sharp, but it rests on a narrow and brittle blade. Put down the redbull and give Chris a chance. (Report) Reply

  • Valerie Booth (6/10/2010 10:17:00 PM)

    Chris, Chris, Chris what are you thinking? ? ?
    Henley’s Invictus is not a depressing poem, nor is it bleak or pessimistic! There is no cynicism in this poem (first learn to spell this word then look up its meaning in the dictionary) and no angry or pessimistic view of the world, quite to the contrary. Henley poem is one of inspiration wherein he expresses triumphant certainty about his own strength that will carry him through in spite of the adversity that has or will befall him.
    If you are depressed, cynical, and have a pessimistic view of life may I suggest it is because you are attempting to analyze poetry, a task for which you are obviously ill equipped to succeed.
    I think you must be either very young or very American, two conditions that would explain your ridiculous, uneducated take on a very inspirational poem. (Report) Reply

  • Chris Sandaine (6/2/2010 12:43:00 AM)

    Pessimistically Determined

    “Invictus” is a short poem by English poet William Ernest Henley (1849-1903) . Written in 1875 and published in 1888, the poem appeared in Henley’s Book of Verses. The poem had no title when it was first written and was the fourth poem in a series titled Life and Death (Echoes) . In 1900 it appeared in the Oxford Book of English Verse, by Arthur Quiller-Couch, where it was given the title Invictus, which is Latin for unconquered. Early printings of the poem say that it was dedicated to R.T.H.B., which was for Robert Thomas Hamilton Bruce (1849-1899) . He was a successful baker and merchant who was also a Scottish literary patron. At the age of twelve, Henley developed tuberculosis of the bone and a few years later had to have his foot cut off below the knee to stop the spreading of the disease. At the time he was only twenty five years old. In 1867 Henley passed the Oxford local examination as a senior student then he wrote the “Invictus” poem. He had an active life till the age of fifty three despite his disability.

    The poem is captivating. It pulls the reader in to a darker version of the world. At the same time, the poem gives a great amount of strength to the reader and is very inspiring. The poem teaches a life lesson of counting on your self as no one can help you but you. It’s a short poem, with a lot of depth, and a pessimistic tone, although it gives feelings of hope for the future. The last line gives a sense of empowerment and makes the reader feel as if they have a lot more control of their life than what might be understood. Henley shows his disagreement with religion but also seems torn and confused about his feelings of God. Henley shows a great deal of bravery and perseverance in the last line of the poem. I think Henley is trying to say we amount to the total of our choices in life and that chance has a key role in how life plays out. Henley seems like he might be bordering on atheism especially when he says “whatever gods may be.” The poem is simple and powerful, depressing and bleak, and tells the reader to deal with life before it deals with you. Henley seems like he is angry with the situation he has been given, but at the same time, this anger is his main source of strength and courage. I found the poem to be a little frightful at first but hopeful in the end.

    In analyzing the poem, I found a pessimistic and angry view of the world. I would like to discuss the poem piece by piece as this seems to be the best method for gaining a real understanding of what the poem is about. Henley writes in the beginning “Out of the night that covers me.” This line seems to be a reference to a blanket of misery. He continues and gets into an even darker place by saying “Black as the pit pole to pole” which may mean the pit of life, the world, and society and pole to pole meaning society as a whole. When he writes about being thankful for what gods may exist it seems he is saying he is thankful for the strong spirit he has. The “fell clutch of circumstance” appears to be a reference to a failed clutch, like on a car, and circumstance being the situation that was given in life. I felt moved by the line “he has not cried” because he is saying he has been, is, and will be a soldier in life and will deal with the pains as they are given. The bludgeoning of chance comment felt as if he was referencing being beaten down by the harsh chances of life. Henley believes that a more confident and spiritually knowledgeable self comes after death but also feels like he is in charge of his soul and that his soul is unconquerable in the past, present, and future. When he says “beyond this place of wrath and tears” he is saying beyond this place of pain and he continues by writing “looms but the horror of the shade” which seems to mean sometimes there can be a greater amount of sorrow from the shadow of that direct pain. “Menace of the years” means no matter all the hardships over the years, past-present-future, he will not be afraid. He ends with “I'am the master of my fate, I’ am the captain of my soul” which appears to mean I make my own future and I am responsible for my own pain and happiness.

    I can relate well with this poem because I too am quite synical and can be very pessimistic. I must agree with Henley, life seems to be one painful experience after another with no end in sight. At the same time I share his spirit of determination to not be conqoured by life’s challenges. Is it possible to be synical, pessimistic, determined, and unconquerable all at the same time? I think so. When a person like Henley, or my-self, experiences many painful situations in life one can become accustomed to the tragedy of everyday life. You push forward though, through the pain, out of necessity to survive another day. Through those mini battles, one develops calluses, knowledge, and self confidence that even though those hard times, one will continue see what one’s self has endured so far, and say “this can beat me! ” On the other hand, looking on the brighter side of life is much better for the soul. In order to obtain and sustain an emotional balance one must live through both frames of mind, a positive outlook with a sometimes pessimistic view. This is an “I can do it” attitude with a “not this again” approach. The poem has a clear message to the reader and the poem is like a rotting onion. You must peal back the rotten layers first, then you will find a Walla Walla sweet beneath. Sometimes, things are bitter at the start but can be sweeter in the end. (Report) Reply

  • Tommy Jerry (5/24/2010 11:29:00 PM)

    These lads do a good job.
    Let them do it.
    Good luck
    Н е д в и ж и м о с т ь в К а р е л и и (Report) Reply

  • Tommy Jerry (5/24/2010 11:28:00 PM)

    Some resources can
    found in the articles here:
    Н е д в и ж и м о с т ь в К а р е л и и (Report) Reply

  • Tommy Jerry (5/24/2010 11:28:00 PM)

    This is a very nice, thanks.
    Found for myself some new details.
    Н е д в и ж и м о с т ь в К а р е л и и . (Report) Reply

  • Clint Groce (5/22/2010 12:35:00 PM)

    I was so inspired by this poem, I felt it entirely appropriate to get it permanently scribed on my body. Two days after I read it I got the title 'Invictus' across my forearm with the last two lines 'I Am The Master Of My Fate, I Am The Captain Of My Soul' above and below it. It reminds me everyday that I alone am the author of my story. (Report) Reply

  • Mthoko Mpofaxa Mthoko Mpofaxa (5/14/2010 8:38:00 PM)

    The poem that kept Nelson Mandela going in Robben Island. (Report) Reply

  • Rohit Khopkar (4/28/2010 2:18:00 PM)

    I first read this poem when I was 14 yrs old, I had no hope what so ever in the morrow but upon reading this poem hope was re kindled. On that very day I made a copy of the poem and kept it in my wallet... it is still there and I read it every day. It inspires me and re assures me through trying times and it convinces me to achieve the impossible. What a beautiful poem, I feel every one should find one such song or verse that can help them through the day! (Report) Reply

  • Lujira Cooper (4/20/2010 10:39:00 AM)

    I have always loved this poem. It has spoken to me over the years especially the last two lines, 'I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.' Studying the power of thought and speech has really driven home the point I am in control of my life by what I think and say. Out of the darkness one can come if one believes in the light. Invictus is a powerful statement about rising up from the ashes like the phoenix. I really do, 'thank whatever gods may be for my unconquerable soul.' (Report) Reply

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