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

  • (10/5/2011 4:45:00 AM)

    Excellent write, profound sentiments! (Report) Reply

    9 person liked.
    3 person did not like.
  • (9/13/2011 6:35:00 AM)

    brilliant and uplifting poem! (Report) Reply

  • (9/10/2011 4:43:00 PM)

    To the tune of “Invictus”

    Out in the lanes where laughs not Mirth,
    Where maggots thrive 'mid offal fogs,
    A mongrel mutt wreaked lethal birth
    Unto a host of puppy dogs.

    Six guileless hounds were spewed in Hell,
    The dowager vaporing, dead.
    Five unlicked pups heaved blind and fell
    Until but one might Being wed.

    Then I, bereft of Pride's respect,
    My spirit cold spurned to this sty,
    Touched humble fur-O dim reject!
    For me his spark refused to die!

    It matters not how mixed his blood,
    How flea-infected be his skin;
    I now command this canine stud,
    I am the master of Chien.

    - Jack Strange, Would-Be Poems (2001)
    (Report) Reply

  • (8/22/2011 6:34:00 AM)

    Read my poem called, for
    Michael hicky. A true story.
    He was one of the bridgewater four.
    Who was in charge of his fate? .
    (Report) Reply

  • (8/22/2011 6:28:00 AM)

    Read my poem called, for
    Michael hicky. A true story.
    He was one of the bridgewater four.
    Who was in charge of his fate? .
    (Report) Reply

  • (8/20/2011 12:47:00 PM)

    I am the master of my fate:
    I am the captain of my soul

    ^ ^ <3
    (Report) Reply

  • (8/14/2011 1:08:00 PM)

    Having just lost a wife I nursed for three years and who considered this one of her favorite poems, it is clear Mr Henley truly understood the abyss and the courage needed to navigate it. (Report) Reply

  • (8/7/2011 6:52:00 PM)

    I do believe, as of the great demi-god Mandela, this is my favorite poem, of time (Report) Reply

  • (3/19/2011 2:16:00 PM)

    was thinking of using this as lyrics to my bands new song. anyone know any details of copyright? ? (Report) Reply

  • (3/1/2011 4:10:00 PM)

    I don't know if everyone reading this has read the christian intrepration of this poem, but to me atleast, it doesn't even caught the tone and message of this truly amazing poem. I feel almost as if their polar opposites, and while i don't know about the history of William Ernest, I personally believe this poem wasn't even written with a christian intent, as much as he was just using the imagery these very common and well known concepts envoke. (Report) Reply

  • (2/8/2011 12:29:00 PM)

    Hello Poemhunter,

    I recently exchanged comments with Keith Leach about themes in the poem Invictus by William Henley concerning hubris versus humility as responses to the perceived lack of control over one's fate in life, especially concerning illness (like Henley in the poem) . What better way to discuss these themes than relate them to our own experiences? Illness and infirmity are sensitive subjects, but I thought we dealt with them sensitively, yet honestly. I wonder why they were removed? Were they too sensitive for Poemhunter? Is it cultural incorrectness? It seems like an arbitrary decision to remove them, especially when reading all the other comments. So, I'm perplexed. I think it's hard to argue that the comments did not deal with touchy subjects that are logically and emotionally very related to the poem.

    I would really like to understand your general policy and specific reason for removing the comments.


    I would really appreciate feedback from other users of the site who read my comments before they were removed. Please send me a private message via Poemhunter's system. Was I out of line? Thank you.
    (Report) Reply

  • (2/1/2011 6:17:00 PM)

    Thank you Keith for the response. Yes, I questioned myself after writing what I wrote, my first post on the site too. There is no doubt in my mind that your ordeal has left you in a position to understand the poem far better than I, and humbled you greatly. Besides the 'being in control of one's life' issue, the humility/hubris dichotomy is another theme that I have thought a lot about in a very personal way. You see, I am basically a reforming narcissist (not with a capital 'N' as in a full-blown personality disorder but yes as a way to sub-consciously protect myself from feeling 'out of control') . So I am very sensitive when I think I perceive it in others. Although I can't validly complain about my life when compared to the tribulations you've had to endure, I indeed was dealt a raw childhood and subsequently have made a lot of bad decisions in 28 years of adult life that have left me, well, somewhat lonely, depressed, and angry at myself... and very humbled in my own way.

    I know it appears callous for me to suggest that a sick person as yourself may be hubristic, sorry. But I've actually seen it in quite sick people that I know well. I think that extreme hardship makes one deeper, insightful, more capable of seeing many points of view. However I find life essentially paradoxical, and hardship can at the same time create feelings of 'I've been to hell and back... now I truly see things as they truly are without blinders, undistorted by any lens.' I don't think so.

    So that's what I was (over) reacting to. Thank you for explaining where you were coming from. I've tried to do the same. As far as Michael B's comment, it dramatically shows how offended he was in a manner that would be hard to match any other way. And with the internet, conventions of civility and decorum are out the window. Parents have a big responsibility these days. Also, it's a poetry website. Poetry has never pulled any punches and is not always necessarily for kids. I sincerely wish you the very best.
    (Report) Reply

  • (2/1/2011 1:42:00 AM)

    Mr. Merrill,
    At best you have said I exaggerate. At worst you say I am arrogant and over confident. Please allow me to explain. In retrospect I should have stated I see several points of view, including Michael B's. I had to stop working in medicine far too early in my career. The greatest joy in my life were the years spent helping people regain their sight. I cannot put in to words how rewarding that makes one feel. When I lost the privilege of helping others, it wasn't my ego that suffered. It was my emotional health. I had to stop working five years ago and have endured twenty-nine surgeries over the last twelve years. I only share this with you so you understand my perspective on this particular issue.

    Your comment also mentioned you appreciated some background on the poem. I would like to add a bit more. It may be meaningless, or it may be exactly what Henley was writing about. Knowing a fair amount about 19th century surgical techniques I believe the second line of Henley's poem may have been quite literal. In 1875 when limbs were amputated a stump was not routinely prepared as it is today, as prosthetic devices were not commonplace. In all probability, given the fact Henley suffered from Tuberculosis of the long bones of the leg, the surgeons would have removed the bone closer to his knee than the surrounding tissue. Hence once the surrounding muscle, fascia, vessels and nerves were removed, not cut as far back as the tibia and fibula, the skin closure would result in a concave recess, or pit. Post-operatively his leg would have been placed in a sling suspended by two poles to reduce swelling.

    Henley goes on to mention things that would lead me to believe he was living the life of a man learning how to walk again. Certainly falling along the way, but always picking himself up, dusting himself off and persevering.

    Michael B's point was very clear. It was simply tasteless. He was offended someone else took poetic license with Henley's work. Point well made. Could he have gotten his point across without offending several people? Certainly. He meant to offend. He said so. He wanted to get a rise out of people and he did just that. I believe everyone has a right to their own opinion, and to choose how to express their opinion. However, as you stated 'word choice is important'. This is an open forum read by people of all ages. Do you honestly feel Michael B's comments are appropriate for a ten year old to read? I am not a religious person by any stretch of the imagination. What I am saying has nothing to do with the Bible or religion. I wrote my first post for three reasons. Firstly, to tell people a little bit about the author, if they did not already know. Secondly, to say a little bit about what the poem meant to me. And lastly, to chime in, along with many others, that I felt Michael B's comments were in poor taste. If that leads you to believe me to be arrogant, so be it. I detect a bit of hubris in you by the way you sit in judgment of other people's posts by saying 'I have no problem with...', 'and that Hell Yes said what he said', 'I'm also fine with...'.

    I have explained my previous post and clarified my statements. I do appreciate the fact you found the background on the poem helpful. I hope my reply clarifies things for you. As you previously stated and I restated, on a site like this, one must choose their words carefully. If there is one word which most aptly describes me, it would be humble, not hyperbole and certainly not hubris.
    (Report) Reply

  • (1/31/2011 8:20:00 PM)

    Mr. Merrill, I would like to clarify a few things for you, as at best you have said I exaggerate, at worst I'm arrogant and over confident. Perhaps instead of saying 'I literally see all points of view', I should have said I see two important points of view. I had to give up a career in medicine for the last six years battling a disease still undiagnosed, yet causing me to endure 29 surgeries in that period of time. Prior to my illness I had the immense pleasure to help people regain their sight. That is a tremendous feeling I cannot put into words. Having that privilege taken from me early in my career was devastating. Not to my ego, but to my emotions.

    Making the transition from practitioner to patient is probably different for everyone. For myself, it led to a lot of depression until I stumbled upon Invictus. When I read Invictus for the first time it made me think about 19th century medicine and what the second line of his poem might have meant. During that period of time there were no prosthetic devices, so when one underwent an amputation the surgeon would not prepare the limb and build up the tissue as a stump like we do today. The surgeon would remove the tissue, vessels and nerves, cut the bone closer to the torso than the remaining skin, close the wound and what would remain after was a concave surface, or pit. Then, in Henley's case, the leg would be suspended in the air by a sling held by two poles to reduce swelling.

    As for the rest of the poem, it sounds as though Henley may have been describing his trials and tribulations revolving around learning to walk again. Obviously that's only my opinion.

    My issue with Michael B. is very simple. Mr. Merrill, I see his point, I disagree with the way he made his point. I must preface this by saying I am not a religious man. However, in his rather graphic portrayal of the Last Supper, I didn't find any connection between Invictus and his Penthouse-like description of what may have transpired that evening. I felt and still feel everyone is entitled to their opinion. He was lashing out at someone for exercising poetic license with Henley's work. Point well made. He meant to aggravate people. He was exercising his right to free speech, but myself and several others found it rather distasteful. But Mr. Merrill, if you honestly believe this site to be the appropriate venue for the exchange of ideas and commentary that go beyond vulgar, please keep in mind people of all ages access this site. My initial post was meant to do three things. Tell people a little bit about the poet, maintain a modicum of civility and let Michael B. know myself and others felt he could have made his point just as easily with more taste.
    (Report) Reply

  • (1/30/2011 3:44:00 PM)

    It's a powerful poem, and I'm interested in the paradox some of the comments touch on that we simultaneously are and are not 'in control' of our lives. I think it’s true. Those of you that are ill and suffering well understand the things beyond your control, yet many of you realize the importance of the spirit of the Invictus poem. “God” may approve of fist-shaking defiance.

    I find the christians/non-christian divisiveness here a bit vapid, yet I have no problem that Rhebergen rewrote the poem and that Hell Yes said what he said. I'm also fine with Michael B's way of making his point.

    Thank you Mr. Leach for some background on the poem. That’s helpful. However I think on a poetry site word choice is important, so I must object to your, “I LITERALLY see all points of view.” It certainly hyperbole. I hope it’s not hubris. You don’t seem to “see” Michael B’s.
    (Report) Reply

  • (1/29/2011 4:13:00 PM)

    Well said Keith Leach, thank you!

    My professor told us this poem is an atheists poem....I wrestled with this but let it roll off my back. However, as I currently watch the movie Invictus (having watched it before) this movie to me represents an amazingly Christ like man. Although God is not directly mentioned, if your heart is aligned with Christs' and your mind not consumed with legalism, I believe you can see LOVE as Kris Christ taught us. So having forgotten about this poem I read it and then thought of the most direct scriptures in the OT which, God gives Moses His name.....Exodus 3: 14..... I AM WHO I AM...TELL THEM 'I AM' SENT YOU...... If you read the last 2 sentences and put a comma after I am this is who my God is.....the Master of my fate and the Captain of my soul....... it breaks my heart seeing 'Christians' argue and say disgusting things to your brothers and sisters. GOD sent His Son for ALL..... please remember that ALL means ALL and as long as you Christians keep behaving as atheists Jesus' death will have been for nothing.

    On a side note.....opinions are like butt holes.....everyone's got one. How about we grow up and appreciate pure talent and LOVE the fact that we are not all the same!
    (Report) Reply

  • (1/26/2011 8:41:00 AM)

    I've read many of your criticisms of the comments left by fellow admirers of this poem, which is sad. I don't know how many of you know under what circumstances this poem was written, but I feel it germane to mention before anyone else blows a gasket over a masterful piece of literature. Henley wrote Invictus from his hospital bed in Scotland shortly after undergoing a below the knee amputation at the age of 25. He required the amputation due to his tuberculosis spreading to his foot, and then progressing up his leg. He went on to live until the age of 53.

    Like Anthony M., this poem helps give me hope. I have a disease worse than rheumatoid arthritis, and to boot it made me give up my career as a health care provider. I literally see all points of view. The beauty of art, in any form, be it literature, painting, sculpture, whatever, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So when I read a comment like the one Michael B has written, I just shake my head and say no wonder he's afraid to give his entire name on this website. He's willing to try and incite everyone reading this forum, but still such a coward that he must remain anonymous. Shame on you. No one was trying to rewrite Henley's work. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, even you. Please, just keep it civil.
    (Report) Reply

  • (1/7/2011 8:38:00 PM)

    Hi everyone. This is a brilliant poem and means a lot to me, as I am sure it does to most of the people who are on this forum.

    Some people in life are moved by words, history, stories...things that people say or have said, I am one of these people and this poem moves me for a number of reasons.

    When I originally found this poem, the part that really hit me, straight away, was the determination of the author (before even knowing his background) just the defiance is inspiring.

    Bit of background on me. I came from humble beginnings and have always been ambitious. I have a good qualification (which took me 8 years to achieve) but now have a good lifestyle. I have a beautiful and kind wife and two lovely children. About 3 years ago I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and was told that I would be on medication for the rest of my life (about 6 different tablets a day) . Anyway without getting into the detail, I refused to accept that my own body would attack me and my mind/body/soul would allow this to happen. I did a lot of soul searching and meditation…… and I have not taken any medication in over 2 yrs and feel fine.

    Anyway I have read all the other comments and would like to add my own 2 cents (very amateur – I have never attempted this before)

    1st verse: he is giving us a summary of his ordeal: he has been to a dark place but thanking whatever (gods) , that he had a strong enough personality to see him through

    2nd verse: gives us some detail, and lets us know that while he has come through this ordeal, that he is not unscathed (ie lost his leg) but still determined, not broken by any means

    3rd verse: he knows there are going to be hard times ahead (this was often the most worrying thing for me when I was first diagnosed, what happens when you get older, how will you provide for yourself etc.) perhaps he is saying he knows life is going to be difficult with one leg, BUT again, makes it clear he is up for the fight and is not afraid to face it

    4th verse: No matter how bad it gets, he is not going to look for excuses or use it as an excuse, as he is taken responsibility for his life, good or bad - which is both courageous and positive.

    This is my take (obviously biased based on my own experiences) .

    I am also on a different journey now, which is also challenging and I am going to use this poem to help me see it through.

    Finally, I would like to thank all the people who have made contributions to this forum about this poem, I have spent the last 3 hours reading all the comments and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. It is amazing how many different views there are on the same 16 lines.
    (Report) Reply

  • (12/27/2010 3:54:00 AM)

    A true sign of a masterpiece, people are still debating it's merits long afte the Poet is gone. It's one of my personal favorites. RIP Henley, you are still Mr. Invictus. (Report) Reply

  • (12/12/2010 6:11:00 AM)

    I also more than agree with Mr. Cunts.

    Religious fanatics always have to skew things to fortify their own inane views and feelings. Your version of this poem is utterly offensive and apart from offending it is simply poor poetry. Why do people like you always have to 'christify' things? Apart from the clear and underlying insecurity you feel about your faith and all its tall tales.

    Keep to the poetry and keep your versions of these classics tucked away in the bible you keep under your pillow.

    Thank you.
    (Report) Reply

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