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

  • (10/5/2010 8:16:00 PM)

    It's a 'God' fearing man who rewrites a poem written by a man of free will, of courage and of many things so many of us lack. Do you think your 'God' is going to rain blessings upon you for rewriting and defiling an already amazing work of art? Hell Yes, I'm with you and understand the outburst. 'Command of the English language' is what creates poetry, and certainly the thoughtlessness of those who essentially try to convert everything their eyes see should likewise be more tolerant. What you attempted to convert was just as offensive to some of us as say, turning the last supper into a giant orgy with twelve deciples going down on Ms. Magdalene's bright red carpet whilst being impaled on Mr. Christ's crucifix, so to speak. Oh wouldn't momma Mary be so proud? I suppose his father, the carpenter, would be proud that his son has taken a liking to his trade.

    Offended yet? I bet you are, so please, hold your tongues and let the author's words resonate throughout time and let it be what it is. Intolerance is what causes outbursts and responses such as mine. It stung a little while typing this; however, I gained more joy out of defending an equally as offended individual as myself.

    P.S. Don't pray for my soul... if there was a Heaven or Hell, I'd certainly have visited either one by now. Like Mr. Henley, I am the captain of my soul.
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  • (10/5/2010 10:44:00 AM)

    How did 'Hell Yes' end up on this site? He clearly has no interest in poetry. His command of the 'English' language is stupefied! If he were interested, he would be more tolerant, or at least his tongue would be more tame. I hope more can express themselves as did Peter Rhebergen. I may or may not agree with Richard, but his attempt to personalise this poem is credible. I recognise his sense to changing the meaning of the poem to one which recognises that we are not the captain of our souls, but God is. No dead person can agree against that! Those alive can think they are right up until thhry take their last breath. So keep breathing 'Hell Yes'.
    Anyway. Great poem! May we all have more courage.
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  • (10/5/2010 6:45:00 AM)

    Just another viewpoint -
    Henley represents himself as one who is impervious to pain and hardship and is determined not to even remotely consider introspection in such times of trial. His motto could be, “Stay the course, come what may.” Being “unconquerable” sounds macho, but we all know that the love of another or that of one’s God can merit a bit of conquering! When proven wrong, one may be obstinate or allow the facts to conquer our pride and prompt us to apology.

    The spirit of determination and conviction pictured here is certainly admirable when one is standing for principle. Many have died while refusing to bow to tyranny, persecution or torture, but the nobility is of greater value when the cause is greater than merely pride or personal aggrandizement.

    In verse three, Henley speaks of future “Horror” beyond the hardships of the present. Perhaps he refers only to the empty void or oblivion that some believe awaits those who die. But, the word “Horror” sounds ominous enough to describe a hell of sorts anticipated by those who defy or deny their Creator. This fatalistic attitude is not completely unlikely and is even referenced in the biblical book of Revelation where those suffering tribulation woes curse the God they know has sanctioned their judgment. To claim to be unafraid in this context sounds somewhat boastful and premature.

    In the final verse, Henley references the “strait” gate. While this could have been pulled from the words of Jesus found in the Gospels, it may simply be a reference to the author’s willingness to take the hard path. Line two seems to be an unavoidable reference to the “scroll” or book opened in the final judgment that records the sins of the condemned and (supposedly) the pronouncement of “punishments” in the Lake of Fire (again, Revelation) . Henley supposes that his judgment before God will somehow be overruled by his own human power of self-determination. One wonders if Henley understood the concept that a captain can choose to challenge the reefs with his vessel, but once upon the savage rocks, his will cannot overturn the shipwreck he has caused by his arrogance.

    We can all make choices, we cannot control the results, but we do have to live with them.
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  • (9/27/2010 7:20:00 PM)

    I'm going to have to agree with Hell Yes (Report) Reply

  • (9/27/2010 9:28:00 AM)

    Invictus is about what GOD intended for you and me. He gave us a mind in addition to the instinct. The mind is to be used to subvert the instinct so that you and I can observe, cogitate our experience and observations, act properly in relation to our understanding, take charge and move forward with confidence, not having to rely on self-anointed authorities who seek to use us rather than to empower us. (Report) Reply

  • (9/15/2010 2:41:00 PM)

    I also have read and appreciated Invictus and have always been impressed by the power of Henley's words. It's easy to see why Invictus has inspired so many people and why it remains so immensely popular today. In spite of this, I find it to be a very dark and depressing poem that stands in contradiction to reality. Regardless of our mastery of our fate, the things that happen to us are completely beyond our control.

    Wanting something similar but conveying more hope, I was moved to write the following (but then, Henley and I probably looked at things differently and he would be as saddened by my words as I am by his) :


    Out of the night that covered me,
    black as the pit of death's dark hole,
    I thank the God all know to be
    that He redeemed my conquered soul.

    Beneath fell weight of God’s just wrath,
    my heart in fearful torment fled.
    Yet Christ pursued and took my path!
    I am made whole because He bled!

    Beyond this place of wrath and tears
    loomed death and horror of the shade.
    Thank God He carried all my fears;
    and death shall find me unafraid.

    It matters not how strait His gate,
    how charged with punishments His scroll.
    God’s grace has saved me from my fate;
    He is the Saviour of my soul.
    (Report) Reply

  • (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.

    (Report) Reply

  • (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

  • (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

  • (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

  • (7/9/2010 8:29:00 PM)


  • (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

  • (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

  • (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.
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  • (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

  • (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

  • (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

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  • (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

  • (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.
    (Report) Reply

  • (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.
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