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

  • (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

  • (12/19/2009 3:15:00 AM)

    Wow...is it impossible nowadays to express your opinions before self guilted people confront you with their self internal woes?

    Sean taylor- YES, i am unabashadedly telling you that God takes credit to all beauty, creativity and morality. God created beautiful nature, human, who in turn manifested the creativity and morality in them. As to comparing God and harry potter-i rather say nothing but my earnest promise to pray for your soul. lol

    Scott Gowdy,

    You brought forth a very fantastic arguement. 'We are all agents unto ourselves. We all can choose. ' (and followed by the bible scriptures of course)

    I can see your point based on explaining the lines of i am the captain of my soul, and master of my fate. That can ring a connotation of - If you do good and live your life guided by God- you can be master of your fate. Basically, in concept of religion, that it is upto you if you want to go to heaven.

    However, Gowdy, on the second point, i totally disagree.

    'And in relation to the line in the poem 'I thank whatever gods may be' - it sounds like he doesnt know for sure but he is at least acknowledging something greater than himself and expressing gratitude which, for those who believe in god, understand this concept very well'

    He doesnt know for sure? But i thought the point of religion or belief in God was total surrender in NOT a 'being' out there, not a spiritual force in the air, but a total know and belief in God, as your creator. I mean, personal faith is relative to an individual, the degree in which a believer believers in God varries- but he/she who doesnt know for sure God exist-is simply called an agnost. And he who rejects God entirely is called an atheist or a Sean taylor in this case. lol (kidding)

    Last but not least, -Generally, i do think the poem is inspirational. I still stand by orginal analysis, that it is a strong, moving, inspiration poem. There is a ressileance in the poem that can be taken as an inspirational tool; Edward shared the poet's amputation story-which rings very true to the voice of the poem in its strength.(or fight death?) And Smith is also correct as a poem can be interpretted 300 ways, havings said that- i interpret it as a strong moving inspirational poem at the end of the day. Would i be proud to place it as one of my cherished poem collections? No. Why? Strictly based on the looming god-less slash agnost contents in the poem.
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  • (12/17/2009 1:41:00 PM)

    I believe this poem stirs up contentious comments because it is itself a declaration of defiance. I disagree with Edwards that poems need to be understood by the small circumstances surrounding the author. I believe a poet is simply the instrument that brings truth to light and that great poems contain meaning that transcends the mere experience of one little man in one small corner of the world.

    This poem isn't 'godless' at all. It isn't God that Henley is defying-it is death. It is the pain and suffering that we all go through in various measures through variable circumstances. The difference between good and evil is that one allows us to think and reason and choose for ourselves and the other attempts to manipulate and inflict its will upon us. Clearly Henley is defying death and everything evil in our world.

    There is an amazing correlation between these words and the biblical account of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who were commanded by the king of Babylon to bow down and worship an idol. They responded saying they believed in God and that He would deliver them, but if not, they would never bow down and worship a thing that was dead. All of us are in that same spot from time to time-will we let the pains and sicknesses and sufferings of life conquer our souls? Will we let them force us to bow down and worship them? Or will we defy death to its face and retain our right to choose and remain the masters of our fate, the captains of our souls?
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  • (12/17/2009 2:07:00 AM)

    i direct my comments to Basra who feels this is a god-less poem and that the last two lines of this poem show that. I know that God lives, that He loves us, and that we are His children. I know He is ' the author and finisher of our faith' and has a plan for us. And one of the most critical elements of His plan was agency, the freedom to choose. Through one of his prophets of old God said, in reference to Adam and Eve while in the Garden of Eden when agency was given to man,

    'Wherefore, he [God] gave commandments unto men, they [Adam and Eve] having first transgressed the first commandments as to things which were temporal, and becoming as Gods, knowing good from evil, placing themselves in a state to act, or being placed in a state to act according to their wills and pleasures, whether to do evil or to do good-'

    We are all agents unto ourselves. We all can choose. One of the most famous scriptures in the Bible is, 'Ask and ye shall receive, knock and it shall be opened unto you.' God does not force anything upon us. He gives because we choose, because we ask. We truly are 'the masters of our fate and captains of our souls'

    And in relation to the line in the poem 'I thank whatever gods may be' - it sounds like he doesnt know for sure but he is at least acknowledging something greater than himself and expressing gratitude which, for those who believe in god, understand this concept very well.

    This poem gives me greater strength and optimism. We can all interpret the poem the way we like. As a believer in God, I do not feel this is a 'god-less' poem.
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  • (12/17/2009 1:10:00 AM)

    Like John Smith, I created an account just to add my two cents worth and here it is. You must understand when and under what circumstances this poem was written, He was in a hospital, they amputated is leg just below the knee and he wasn't well. When he regained his strenghth and knew he wasn't going to die, he wrote the poem from his hospital bed.

    Poems need to be interpreted and understood from when it was written, the economic and social climate, and the circumstances of the author.

    I don't care about the god issue. I'm happy he wrote a marvelous poem of optimism and strength. We are responsible for our lives and how we live it. People can lie in bed and just give up and die. Others fight.

    The poem and Elton John's song 'I'm still standing' was my theme song recovering from open heart surgery.

    And these Christians who take offense at everything need to lighten up.

    'nuff said.
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  • (12/17/2009 12:47:00 AM)

    I never do this I but created an account just because I am so shocked that you guys are still fighting about this. I think we learned in grade school that 300 people could read a poem and you would get 300 different responses about the meaning. Why don't you guys just read the poem and embrace it for what you think it means who cares what any of you say it means your wrong because there is no right answer. (Report) Reply

  • (12/16/2009 11:50:00 PM)

    I find the direction this comment thread has taken to be extremely distasteful. Sean Taylor, the immaturity of your ill though out claims astounds me. I would advise you to keep your opinions on such important matters to yourself; especially without any research. By generalizing EVERY 'god follower' as a pompous pig you significantly decrease the credibility of your statement.
    All of that aside, I wish to provide my own input on this poem. I'll add that this is my opinion, nothing more. I do not think the author was making a religious statement about there being a god or not. Let's not focus on if this poem is 'god-less' or not. This poem is simply an optimistic outlook on human nature. The fact that we can be 'masters of our fate' and 'captains of our soul' is truly inspiring. Being a master of one's own fate relates directly back to the great 'American Dream' that helped establish the United States during it's founding. We all have the power to become someone who can benefit our world in a variety of ways.
    I believe that the overall tone is to make the most of our struggles and problems. Just like pruning a tree helps it grow stronger and produce better fruit, when people overcome problems they grow.
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  • (12/16/2009 10:25:00 PM)

    I still find it crazy today that people have to take away from what is clearly a fantastic poem, with deep, powerful meaning, on the justification of religion.
    I love the fact its a god-less poem. Im far more likely to turn to this poem for help in times of need than the bible.

    Sorry Basra.....god is no more real than Harry Potter, or Elmo, and I take more life lessons from both.

    I really struggle with the pomposity of you arrogant 'god followers'who try and take credit for all beauty, creativness and morality.
    If this poem really offends your fragile religious values, then I guess 90% of things in this world do to.

    He offers people a choice, to take life and run with it.
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  • (12/16/2009 8:35:00 PM)

    Crawford lol I resent that robust accusation of me having no free will. I do have a free will, and i choose it so to believe in God. Is that a crime? In fact, Jeff your point of rebuttal only enforced my position, which is, this poem is indeed a God-less poem, and the author certainly an agnost or at worst-an athiest.

    I am the master of my fate,
    I am the captain of my soul'

    Clearly this above two stanzas escaped my notice before. The author basically is distastefully taking credit of him fate and soul, as if he was God himself. I should have seen that. I guess it took a none believer like you Jeff to notice this. If you meant to convince me i lacked free will- but it only re-enforced me to believe that God is the master of my fate, the captain of my soul. The poets arrogance to assert he is the master and captain of his soul is in infact-certifiably blasphamous.
    Can we agree to disagree? Must you make me join you and your infamous atheist.....Christopher hitchesn in your heresey camp? I think not.

    Basra. Minneapolis.
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  • (12/15/2009 11:20:00 PM)

    To Jeff-
    Excellent response to Basra. You nailed it.
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  • (12/14/2009 10:42:00 PM)

    To Basra Elmi,
    You are not the master of your fate,
    You are not the captain of your soul!
    Surely you have the intelligence to accept the profound words of this poem. If you are blinded by religious supersition you will never achieve the last two lines of this poem. Don't you have any free will?
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  • (12/14/2009 12:29:00 AM)

    Hafa Adai from Guam,

    It's funny how as an adult how this poem means so much more today then when I was in high school. After watching the movie, I can say that my soul was moved and my fate so much brighter. Life is truly epic!
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  • (12/13/2009 6:55:00 PM)

    also finished watching the movie, I thought it was amazing. Morgan Freeman and Matt Dammon were fantastic. I was intriguied by the poem featured in the movie and googled it. I was somewhat delivered to this website and although i appreciate and take note of the vast positive comments about the poem, i had to beg to differ. The poem was no doubt, inspiring, hopeful, and strong in its stance. But the third line disturbed me and made me not like it anymore.

    ' I thank whatever gods may be'

    The pluralarity of 'gods' and the doubtful 'whahtever may be' suggests a connotation of ungodliness and atheisism. Based on the ungodliness stance of the author i choose not to like it.

    Basra Minneapolis
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  • (12/13/2009 12:56:00 PM)

    I also had to memorize this poem over 40 years ago in school. I saw the movie last night and it was awesome. This poem will now become my favorite, Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon both did outstanding performances. I think we could learn alot about forgiveness from that movie. We have seen how holding on to the past is killng the country, we need to start healing. I wish every one would go to see this movie. I would not take anything away from the Princess and the Frog but this is the movie that need to be promoted big time. You cannot read that poem and see the movie and not be changed. (Report) Reply

  • (12/12/2009 11:49:00 PM)

    This i going to become my new favorite poem. I watched the new movie Invictus tonight, and the poem is such a moving underpinning to the movie. (Report) Reply

  • (12/10/2009 2:45:00 PM)

    Every Freshman in my high school had to learn this poem. That was over 40 years ago. Miss Harpole would be proud that I can still remember it. I appreciate the meaning of this more today than 45 years ago. (Report) Reply

  • (12/7/2009 10:03:00 AM)

    I read Invictus when I was 15 years old and the powerful words have remained with me a lifetime. I am going to be 60 soon and still remember the words to the poem just as if I read the poem yesterday. It still has the same effect on me. I often remember the words when life gets tough... When I first heard them advertise the movie I knew instantly why the title was selected. If everr anyone lived the words of the poem... Nelson Mandala did. I cannot wait to go see the movie. I cannot picture anyone but Morgan Freeman playing the part. (Report) Reply

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