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

  • (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
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  • (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

  • (1/30/2010 4:24:00 PM)

    Maybe stoicism is not the Universal Truth, but it's the less selfish of attitudes towards the others. I know it well, I used to know somebody who behave and thought like that. The poem goes deeper than simply encouraging to have a good time. It's full of significance for those who strive for personal evolution and ideals. (Report) Reply

  • (1/25/2010 11:35:00 AM)

    This poem could be written by Lucio Aneo Seneca. It is full of the spirit of estoicism.
    Really can inspire to them that are crossing in dificulties, something that is common in our days. But don't think that the stoicism is the Universal Truth.
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  • (1/22/2010 11:01:00 AM)

    This poem can be read in many ways, that is what is beautiful about it. Great literature reveals the reader in the reading of it. It is natural to me to read this as a meditation on the crucifixion of Jesus although that may not be the author's intent. I also love the reading of it in the movie by this title. It suggests that the mastery spoken of in the poem is mastery of one's own emotions in adversity including the impulse to hate and find revenge. MLK said, 'Let no man lower you so far as to make you hate him.' The movie is a very original and creative meditation on the poem. (Report) Reply

  • (1/21/2010 2:31:00 AM)

    Inspiring poem which simply means, we must strive to make each day a good one no matter what our circumstances maybe. How we think determines how we feel! (Report) Reply

  • (1/17/2010 10:18:00 PM)

    Having bibles may or may not be good, living by the message is what makes a person stand out from others. That is what I read in this lovely poem.

    BTW I am a souf efrican who has left my place of birth and still sees great injustices and inequallity in the country
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  • (1/9/2010 7:40:00 AM)

    I'd like to make a comment about those who are frequently bringing in 'stories' about this poem being non-Christian. It is a poem of hope, much as the Bible should be.. but those idiots out there who have never been born & brought up in southern Africa should realise that the Bible was so often completely misinterpreted and the Africa into which Mandela was born, the Holy Book, was interpreted completely incorrectly! ! Blacks are inferior to whites! What a load of sh**. The movie about Madiba and Francois Pienaar was superbly portrayed.
    BTW I have several Bibles in my home: -) And, am a white woman of Catholic faith who just loves living on the continent of her birth.
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  • (1/8/2010 3:20:00 AM)

    I have been familiar all my life with 'Invictus' I recalled it to mind several times when it helped me through bad times. There is a lot of rot and waffle in some of the comments with people imposing their religious and other beliefs.

    My interpretation of Henley is simply this - BE STRONG AND TAKE COURAGE
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  • (1/3/2010 11:54:00 PM)

    I just saw the phenomenal movie Invictus, which drew its title from the poem. The movie, about Nelson Mandela and his resurrection from being a prisoner of his country to being its president, showed that truly, he was the 'master of [his] fate and the captain of [his] soul.' He rehearsed the words of hope from Invictus, in his prison cell and the power of spirit over matter was manifested.
    As president, he helped the country to unite during a very tense post-aparthied time. Through his wisdom and depth of heart, he was able to transform enemies into friends. He was able to embrace his nation, both black and white as one family. This movie was very inspirational and made it look like peace is possible.
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  • (1/3/2010 10:36:00 AM)

    This is truly great and inspiring poem. It gives strength in middle of trouble and raises interesting questions. But I must say that many commentators read a bit too much to it and especially are convinced of their own interpretation. Of course I too give it plenty more meaning than there is and would like people to agree. lol

    To put it simply I think the main point is: 'No matter what happens, I am bold and confident me and do what I do. Which is nice.' It does not state if any gods do exists or even about free will.

    'I am the captain of my soul.' is interesting expression. 'Soul' refers to human mental faculty. It could refer to religious entity maybe eternal being, but not necessary. 'Captain of soul' suggests that there is some supreme decision maker separate from the soul. But as it is 'I', the whole sentence seems to emphasize that there is only me and no one else. 'I am the master of my fate' could also only emphasize that there is no one else in control. Plainly: 'I am me and I do what I do*

    Strictly speaking there is nothing that forces one to interpret free will or lack of predetermined destiny. Sure the poem seems to praise free will on the first reading. But there is very little hint about the nature of 'I'. There is nothing to suggest that 'I' could decide to be any different than he/she is. Or that he/she could make different decisions. On the contrary 'I' seems very permanent and unchangeable. Maybe 'I' is what 'I' is just because 'I' is like that, not because he/she chooses to be like that.

    Sure for me more easy and natural interpretation is that one can choose his/her own destiny without god or any other authority and disregard of the circumstances. But that is just me. The way I am. lol
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  • (1/3/2010 4:28:00 AM)

    I agree; this is such a great poem. I do not see any crisis of faith in it but rather a person who has balanced his faith to address a greater audience...whatever god may be.... clearly brings a concept of existence of many believes. The poem remains nourishing to all religious sects...from the right wing Muslim to the christian sycophants. The bottom line is that we shape our destiny, that the greatest faith is the faith in one to self liberate or destruct and I believe that is also the baseline for the movie Invictus. For those with a bias of thinking along religious lines, Job in the bible was unbowed; his questioning of the existence of God did not imply a crisis of faith but rather a stronger faith; his unbowedness did not result to lessening of pain but rather an increase.......he was the captain of his soul. (Report) Reply

  • (12/28/2009 10:06:00 PM)

    This is such a great poem. I first learned it as a pledge of my beloved fraternity A Phi A almost 20 years ago. It helps to inspire you to be a man of strong courage and have a will to endure no matter what obstacles may be placed in your path. These obstacles are life's lessons that we will all face during our journey. (Report) Reply

  • (12/28/2009 7:33:00 PM)

    I do not see a defiance of life or death, or a crisis of faith. I see a defiance of predetermined destiny. Do not bow your heads to circumstance; rather, determine your own destiny by choosing your own path and your own reactions to the black pit called life that lies between the poles of birth and death. (Report) Reply

  • (12/25/2009 12:41:00 PM)

    David Austin,

    I agree with your comments regarding Invictus. However, you say it is death that he is defying. It seems to me that it is life that he is defying.

    Death can be a welcome friend at the end of suffering. However Henley faces eveyr challenge that life brings to him without a bowing his head. Driven forward by the fact that he is the 'master of his fate' and 'the captain of his soul.'

    Some have commented about a crisis of faith. But it seems to me that Henley is thanking God for the strength that does imbue him, though may not know who it is that brings him such strength he acknowledges his being and presence.

    It interesting that many comments here discuss the relevance of God in Henley's equation. The truth is faith is just that, faith. Though we personally may be convinced, we can never be certain. There is always an element of truth in God that just can not be proven totally, hence we call it 'faith in God.'

    The element of certainty in God is a myth. I think Henley balances this reality quite well, showing us all that in the end, it is up to to make certain that our soul is not conquered by the harsh realities that we call life.

    Just my thoughts though, sir.............
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  • (12/24/2009 8:56:00 PM)

    And this is exactly why I love poetry. Though I wish my English were of such a caliber that I would write poetry myself, but as such I will stick with the poetry of sound (music) . I have read through the comments again, and this has only reestablished my love for this poem. It has excited and urged people to think and evaluate it and was able to produce a whole myriad of emotions and beliefs. I think I might commit this poem to memory.

    You are most welcome Basra :) .

    And Will, you bring up a most fascinating argument. I definitely can see that, and can agree with that. I have read and analyzed the poem again and found that for me the speaker of the poem is President Mandela and not Henley. An interesting discovery on my part but not surprising seeing as I am South African. As such, what you wrote rings very true.

    Again, this will be one of the poems I have decided to commit to memory.
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  • (12/23/2009 11:11:00 PM)


    I had a slightly different opinion on the author's view of God - I believe that it is more about his crisis of faith - not agnostism or atheism. The voice of the poem believes in a greater being, but in his current anguished condition cannot believe that they/it is with him. Thus the crisis of faith, the line does not purport disbelief or disregard for a greater being. This is also aided by the visual verbage regarding being in the dark. This makes the visual statement that he is not being favored and also describes his mental state and physical condition. The genius of that line - 'whatever gods may be' - is that Henley extracts the argument of a greater being from his the assertion of his poem that promotes the indomitable strength of the human soul.
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  • (12/23/2009 5:24:00 PM)

    Marius Meyer,

    Thank you, for your opinion and support of my arguement. It's refreshing to see God fearing someone offer his support with equillibrium pleasantry. I particularly enjoy your opinion of the imprtance of word usage, as such, i will honor you by using your favorite word. I am 'virtually' impressed. :)
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  • (12/22/2009 12:44:00 AM)

    To answer Basra's question: No, unfortunately it is virtually impossible, and it does not end with religion and faith. People tend to formulate arguments on first impressions, unfortunately I myself fall victim to this now an then but try to avoid it, and will happily follow that to the grave with no more thought than was initially formulated. With no more research they would vehemently argue their points, not with the conviction of being correct but for the dislike of possibly being wrong. As such when an opposing argument is posed and research finally is done the research is then sadly but inevitably shaped and morphed to try to make their point work.

    I should point out though at this point that I am not pointing fingers at anyone. I really do not know anybody here but I am answering Basra's question on face value alone. I mean this also not only with religion and it is purely written from personal experience. Now to add my opinion about the poem:

    Poetry is read in two big and virtually equally important ways. The ephemeral way which is plain personal emotions and opinions that are generated from read the poem initially. That does mean that there are as many meanings to a poem as there are people on this earth. This can be the greatest strength or weakness to a poem. People tend to argue and get offended here for the fact that the two 'meanings' do not match. This is a sad truth and happens here all over the place. As such, the artistry and aesthetics is then completely lost in personal differences and it deviates from a discussion of the myriads of meanings the poem evoked to the countless differences in philosophical and social opinions of people. The poet himself falls under this same category. He too has an opinion when he wrote it equally as valid and is the only other opinion that really should be kept in mind when reading any poetry.

    That being said, there is a different way of reading the poem and can be equally as powerful. The meaning of the poem line by line. It is here that the biggest contention seems to erupt. By the sheer line 'whatever gods may be' it is most definitely either agnostic or atheist in nature and as such formulate the meaning of the rest of the poem. This might not have been the intention of the poet, but that is what it comes down to. As I am not the be all and end all of all poetry, and I am not the master of psychology, linguistics and sociology I have to say that this is my opinion, but I find it hard to read that line any other way. But it is about a person suffering and meaning his oppression or strife head on, and it seems to be more a focus on that than on religion and as such can loose its importance to those who do believe in a God. Words in this way are very powerful and people tend to forget that the meanings can have dire effects, whether intended or not, by there sheer meaning and this is unavoidable.

    Now that that whole part is over I virtually agree with Basra on every point, and that is my opinion generated from my ephemeral reading of the poem. I believe that the comments here have slightly shied away from a discussion, which I think is suppose to be the whole purpose of this section, to a whole array of arguments. At which point I am fully agreeing with Jon Harris as well.

    I like this poem, though it has points I philosophically disagree with, but I do feel a bond with the speaker of the poem and as such I give this poem a 8.9/10.
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  • (12/19/2009 6:53:00 PM)

    In light of the use of this poem for the movie Invictus, I appreciated the concept that regardless of circumstance, we choose our path by the decisions we make and our reactions to apparent injustice or pain and suffering inflicted on us by others. Nelson Mandela, in the movie, and possibly in his life, chose to forgive and move on and participate in the healing of his country by being a tangible example of his choice. I believe that God wants us to learn the power of forgiveness in our lives; however, I respect others who just choose to forgive because they think it is the right thing to do. They will earn the favor of man through this choice, and I personally believe they will also receive the favor of God, whether they believe it, want it or not. Thought provoking poem and excellent movie! (Report) Reply

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