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
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  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • Amber Isaac (4/12/2010 7:45:00 PM)

    The enduring strength of the human spirit is so well captured in this piece of art. (Report) Reply

  • Augusto Mangeth (3/20/2010 8:41:00 PM)

    Enemy brain is recognized when human soul needs for help. Thanks Mr. Mandela, we could find in Mr. Hanley and his pain the way for a new African behaviour driven from your Leadership. This is mantra to inspire leaders worldwide. (Report) Reply

  • Denise Caughern (3/18/2010 11:20:00 PM)

    Pride has many faces from noble, as Mandela, to obscene, or to the ridiculous. This poem evokes the perfect contrasts between 'responding' and 'reacting' to the people or circumstances which surrounds or surprises each of us daily or within a lifetime. To respond is always to move forward, upward to a higher plain. To react is to stay the same or lose ground. Mandela rose above his circumstances, not only from his prison cell but especially in the upward struggle to unite his country-even in the face of alienating his own family.

    Free will is God-given-not granted by a religion, a political party, force, rebellion, or popular opinion. Only those who truly know The Creator God would know He has made it possible for mankind to 'master' their fate, and 'captain' their soul. His sacrifice on the cross made that possible. Possible to reject or to accept that gift. He says in His word in Deuteronomy 30 that He sets before man life and death. He desires us to choose life and says so, but nonetheless, the choice is entirely ours. He is the God that may be thanked for our 'unconquerable soul'.

    I wish to apologize for the religious man who, through two thousand millennia, has misrepresented this God to make one think the 'gate' or the 'scroll' matters not. It mattered so much that He gave His life that we may steer our ship called life to an eternity of dark or light. Psalm 34. (Report) Reply

  • Carol Isaac (3/12/2010 3:05:00 PM)

    Youthful Agnosticism

    Doubting a light has fathered me,
    Bandied by wit from hope to hope,
    I shrank whatever truths here be,
    to amulet and horoscope. (Report) Reply

  • David Cox (3/6/2010 10:13:00 AM)

    By far one of the most inspirational poems i have ever read. I found it while doing a research paper on the mentality of escaping slaves and this was just the perfect fit for the attitude. Amazing (Report) Reply

  • Blaze Hite (2/24/2010 5:37:00 AM)

    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.
    It was my graduation day...the end of my elementary days...the first time I have heard this poem...At first, I just ignore it.But as I get older, I have realize that Invictus, indeed, is the most beautiful poem I have ever heard and read. I even mentioned these lines one time in our literature subject back in my college days. And these lines echoes on my thoughts till now. It made me realize more that in life, it really does not matter difficult it was, how painful failures are, how people looked and think of you, how rejections pinned you down, and how mad the world is, IT IS STILL YOU WHO CAN GET OVER IT! AFTER ALL, YOU COULD STILL WIN THE BATTLE AND BE BETTER THAN EVER. (Report) Reply

  • Athena Jobe (2/23/2010 9:12:00 AM)

    Ever since I heard this poem, it instantly became my favorite..I just love that it has a big impact on me and whenever I am down, disappointed and seems to lose my faith because of all the problems, hardships I encountered, I always recite it in my mind and voila! it will lift my spirits up and again, I am ready to face the world however hard it may seem to be..Because for me the meaning of the poem is for us to stand for what we believe is right, and to have that courage to get up how many times we may have fallen..it means walking with your head high amidst all the rejections, all the pain..That no matter what happens, you will never give up, you will keep on fighting and you will never be defeated. (Report) Reply

  • Didier Bessala (2/14/2010 10:46:00 AM)

    How to get people to be better than what they think they can be? How do we inspire ourselves to greatness when nothing else will do?
    My daily living is inspired from that poem. It gets me motivated, boosts my mind, and helps me to stand still whatever obstacle i face or go through... (Report) Reply

  • Martin Maina (2/12/2010 1:15:00 PM)

    Some say faith is believing on what that cannot be seen, others say it replaces ignorance. Be that as it may, it forms the different religions we have in this world. What I never understand is why man always pays much detail on what that divides than unites. Why should colour, religion or tribe be the basis of judgement.
    From my prospective, the definition of Henley's 'unconquerable soul' means a soul free from all these vices. A soul free from racial and religious prejudice. And the last two lines were just the icing to the cake.
    This poem admits to the reality of the various world atrocities and helps us to move on and push hard even when nothing seems to make sense. I believe his words will be a lantern to my everyday life as a student abroad in India and a good source of inspiration to all who read it. Viva la Henley! (Report) Reply

  • Johnny Walker (2/6/2010 3:06:00 AM)

    A nice and simple poem.

    It seems to me the poet has outgrown the pettiness of organized religion. There is a particular loftiness to his use of the word 'gods'.

    Yes, god is not limited by a particular name or a driving licence number. We may worship one god or several gods as we choose; we may worship the same god under different names; and so on. Nobody should be saying, this is god, that is not god, this is the only god, that god is false, etc.

    Unfortunately even today there are people who subscribe to the backward belief that theirs is the only god and that all other beliefs are false; this is the main cause for most problems we see on this planet.

    Even here we can see people are fighting to lay claim to Henley's god, totally overlooking the real theme of his poem.

    Please accept the poem without worrying about which god or gods he is referring to. That is not the point of this poem. Don't attach labels like Un-X or Not Un-X. Neither of these terms is flattering.

    Should the Coca Cola company go around labelling other drinks like water, milk, tea, coffee, wine, etc. as Un-Coke?

    Should we be hearing things like:

    'Hey, he is drinking an Un-Coke. We should ban all Un-Cokes as false drinks'.

    'No, that is not Un-Coke. He only poured it from the Coke bottle into a glass. His soul is still safe'.

    Don't you see how silly these comments sound? Your Un-religion comments are equally ridiculous. Please elevate your thinking and avoid imposing your religious beliefs on others. (Report) Reply

  • Somi Omowo (2/3/2010 10:30:00 PM)

    It surely is a most beautiful poem and the film really brings out its true meaning and its application to life and its challenges. I agree with Susan whole-heartedly. I see nothing unchristian of this poem. Indeed it is only when a Christian has mastered his soul can he truly forgive- an attribute Mandela showed so well in the film.
    Life will only be conquered by those who have mastered the truths of this poem be they Christian, Moslem or otherwise (Report) Reply

  • Terry Catterall (1/31/2010 4:28:00 AM)

    To me the poem is a powerful way of saying that we (human beings) always have choice- no matter what situation we might find ourselves in! We are the masters of our fate and the captain of our soul if we choose to be! ! I love it. (Report) Reply

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