Treasure Island

William Ernest Henley

(1849 - 1902 / Gloucester / England)

Invictus


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
........................
........................
read full text »


Do you like this poem?
329 person liked.
22 person did not like.

Comments about this poem (Invictus by William Ernest Henley )

Enter the verification code :

  • Patrick Fahey (9/7/2010 12:41:00 PM)

    can picture the man writing this. Sitting in the deep of night with the gaslight low and the quiet pervading the whole world, perhaps feeling the phantom ache that many who lose a limb feel, trying to capture his resolution in the face of trials in perfect rhyme and meter. In my minds eye I see him perk up after the first verse, knowing that he has something and the pen flies across the paper as if by itself until the final 'l' and then he sits back, reads and smiles to himself.

    Well, it may not be accurate but it is the picture my mind presents.

    I like what this poem says and the fact that each line is eight syllables, alternating lines rhyming, (and I am sure that there is a technical term for that which escapes me at the moment, and this ignorance will bring sniffs and scoffs...whatever) makes me like it more.

    I'm a sucker for Quatrians. : -p Finally, my memory kicked in and I googled it! XD

    In any case, what a well crafted poem this is. Simple and thoughtful, plain and elegant, clever and still the cause of spirited debate so many years later. I just wish people could learn to disagree without invective. Really.

    I thank whatever gods may be the I AM not so judgemental.

    heh. (Report) Reply

  • Chris Sandaine (8/11/2010 5:24:00 AM)

    Valerie: Wow. Love the passion but logging on here now, really by accident, and noticed there was response to my take on Invictus I was surprised to see the conversation. I’m surprised you would attack someone so quickly, and in a hurtful way, really for no reason. This is not a healthy sign in a person. I did appreciate that you posted another message so thank you and of course apology is accepted, we are only human after all. I am American; in fact I am a Native American living in Seattle, WA working on my Bachelors in Dental Hygiene. I respect and love education so so much and I know the people in my life are tired of listening to my preaching about the value it adds to life, so I was a little hurt by your educated comment. I am 29 years old, single Dad of a 14 year old son named Jordan, student, I am a Server at a Restaurant and my ultimate goal in life is to be a Osteopathic Doctor. I have lived in poverty pretty much my whole life and I work really hard on making a better life for my son and I. My GPA is currently at a 3.8 and I hope to raise it. There is nothing wrong with my interpretation of this wonderful poem. I wrote this as a paper for my English class and got full points! Whoo Woo! My Professor taught our class that interpretation of poetry is never wrong or right because the poem should speak to the individual. This is the reason why poetry transcends generations and speaks to everyone. I mean Henley never wrote anything saying what he was “really” meaning and feeling when he wrote this. The way you see Henley and his poem is not the same as me and that’s okay.

    I will remind you though that the poem originally had no title until Arthur Quiller-Couch put it in the Oxford Book of English Verse of 1900 and titled it himself. Invictus is Latin for unconquered but once again this was a title “someone” else gave the poem based on his “interpretation”. In addition, don’t forget that Henley had a hard life. I believe whole heartedly that he has complete confidence in him self and his destiny in life and that he will be okay in the future but just because Henley wrote “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul” does not make this a “happy” poem. It inspires perseverance because of his hardships and our ability to relate to those hardships because of our lack of knowledge of something so painful like Henley’s Tuberculoses or something painful (emotionally or physically) that really happened to us too. Saying that Henley is pessimistic does not demean the poem or the inspiration it gives to people. Now, back to Henley. He had Tuberculoses of the bone and at the age of 25 he had his leg cut off below the knee. Then in 1875 he wrote Invictus after passing the Oxford local examination. He went through a dark time that was hard on him and he made it through that dark time but in order to get the message across he is rather dark in this poem and I believe in its power to inspire but I still think he and his poem are dark. I connect to Henley well because I feel like we are two men living in different times connecting with eachother because of the pain we have both experienced in our lives through his poem Invictus. The one trait we both have is that we are both driven by the hardships in our lives and that why I like Henley so much and for that matter we are both students during the toughest times in our lives which is kind of funny.

    Jack: Thank you Sir. I appreciate your wit and your courteous nature.

    Mindy: Thank you for the support but not sure about learning anything from Valerie. I barely kept my head when I didn’t even know she was alive let alone regular communication. Sorry Valerie, you kind of deserved that one.

    Julia: Spoken like a true lady. Much appreciated and really similar to what my teacher said to me when she returned my paper with full points! ! Lol. Sorry, I was just really happy about that. You will be happy to know our English teacher has her PhD.

    Kathryn: I know exactly what you mean because I learned through my research that Victorian men were men’s men for sure and that’s why the poem is so strong, that’s part of who they were at that time culturally.

    Rev Clyburn: Thank you so much Sir. That meant a lot to me about what you said. I am a Christian and I cant help but speak from the heart. I’m glad you included my paper/this discussion in that Sundays sermon. I will defiantly keep trying to share my thoughts. Good luck to you.

    Talat Islam: Thank you for your kind words. I am happy to read that you found strength through this poem as did I. Thank you for your support. I am rather new at this if you can’t tell.

    Chris: I think you have it right on and what you said reminded me that we are all going to have to experience great pain in our lives from some source as some time so I too will remember this poem in those times.

    Gordon: What you wrote was perfection. Very similar to the true message that Henley was saying. Through your experience you could relate to Henley on a Psychological level literally putting your self in his position and not by choice at that. I’m sorry you had to experience such a painful time. I have no physical aliments myself but have had a lot of abuse as a child so I understand pain. You’re an inspiration your self and I’m glad I can say that to you and I suggest you keep telling people your story.

    Darren: I gain a lot of self confidence from this poem as well. It’s a deep seeded type of confidence from your soul. Something putting an expensive outfit cannot give. (Report) Reply

  • Meg G (8/7/2010 4:47:00 PM)

    This has been favorite poem of mine since I first read it in high school, and that was a long long time ago. My life has had many challenges, from nearly losing eyesight in one eye as a child, an auto accident that left me with major injuries and my sister dead at 15, and most recently the untimely death of my all too young brother to the ravages of cancer. (That's the very short list.) For the past couple years I've struggled, like so many others now, with unemployment and the imminent threat of losing my humble home. At times. I feel paralyzed to do anything to help myself, and then I read this poem. It's defiance of failure, of being beaten, encourage me everytime and reminds me that I've never given up before, and cannot not allow myself to do that now. If I am going to be defeated, it will NOT be by my own doing. A strong mantra to always carry with you! (Report) Reply

  • Jassel M (7/13/2010 8:38:00 AM)

    I went through a rubbish period earlier this year and this is a great poem to give you strength. I will explain why it does so for me... If anyone has read Siddhartha by Herman Hesse they will understand where I am coming from in my interpretation.

    In Hindu transcendental philosophy, the world as we know it and the reincarnation cycle is considered to be a hell. And heaven is a release from all of that (Nirvana) . So I think I can understand why Henley gives a number of dark overtones about the world, because it's true - a great deal of it is pain and suffering. But the soul survives all of that and remains unconquered through the cycle of life and death. It's a good reminder of how no matter how broken you might feel - there's something rather solid inside you which can survive pain, grief and even death. (Report) Reply

  • bgkigli jgyvigiu (7/9/2010 8:29:00 PM)

    SOMETIMES WHEN LIFE DOES, NT MAKE SENSE AND I STRUGGLE WITH CONFIDENCE I READ THIS POEM AND IT REMINDS ME I, M NOT THE ONLY ONE WHO FOLLOWS HIS HEART, SO MUCH DEPTH IN A POEM IT WILL ALWAYS BE A CLASSIC! (Report) Reply

  • 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

  • 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)

    Chris,
    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)

    Chris,

    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

Top Poems

  1. Phenomenal Woman
    Maya Angelou
  2. The Road Not Taken
    Robert Frost
  3. If You Forget Me
    Pablo Neruda
  4. Still I Rise
    Maya Angelou
  5. Dreams
    Langston Hughes
  6. Annabel Lee
    Edgar Allan Poe
  7. If
    Rudyard Kipling
  8. Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
    Robert Frost
  9. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
    Maya Angelou
  10. A Dream Within A Dream
    Edgar Allan Poe

PoemHunter.com Updates

New Poems

  1. Take it all it's entirely all for you baby, Mark Heathcote
  2. Confused Sea Gods, Mario,Lucien,Rene Odekerken
  3. A Cookie Jar, Heather Burns
  4. Anger, Steve Gregory
  5. THERE MUST BE A CURFEW ON ALL CATS GLOBAL, MOHAMMAD SKATI
  6. Coincidence is hope for a non-believer, Jorge Rolon
  7. Love's Expression Escorting Me Into a Nu.., wanderer sailor
  8. Receding From Depleting Beliefs, Lawrence S. Pertillar
  9. AM 8/24, Jorge Rolon
  10. My EX Wants You, wanderer sailor

Poem of the Day

poet Alfred Lord Tennyson

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
...... Read complete »

   
[Hata Bildir]