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Invictus -- William Ernest Henley

       
(Poem #221) Invictus
 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.

 In the fell clutch of circumstance
       I have not winced nor cried aloud,
 Under the bludgeonings of chance
       My head is bloody, but unbowed.

 Beyond this place of wrath and tears
       Looms but the horror of the shade,
 And yet the menace of the years
       Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

 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.
-- William Ernest Henley
Note: The title is Latin for 'unconquerable'

This is undoubtedly Henley's most famous poem, and his most popular.
Henley work is at its best, I feel, when steeped in an atmosphere of savage
gloom, and today's poem is no exception.

'Invicitus' is sweeping; passionate; larger than life in a way that few
modern poems can get away with. It is also an oft quoted poem, lines of it
having almost passed into the language. While these are invariably the ones
that involve hurling defiance into the teeth of the storm, note that the
poem itself hinges just as strongly on the 'storm' itself. It is the tension
between the strongly contrastive elements that raises 'Invicitus' from a
series of platitudes to a great poem.

m.

Biography: See poem #117

Notes:

 But what inspired "Invictus" ?? At the age of 12 Henley became a victim of
 tuberculosis of the bone. In spite of it all, in 1867 he successfully
 passed the Oxford local examination as a senior student. But a hospital was
 to be Henley's University. His diseased foot, treated by crude methods, had
 to be amputated directly below the knee. Worse yet, physians announced the
 only way to save his life was to amputate the other also. Henley fought
 this with all his spirit.

 He came out with his foot and his life. He was dicharged in 1875, and was
 able to lead an active life for nearly 30 years, though he was of course a
 cripple. With an artificial foot, he suffered horribly all his life from
 his disease before it killed him at 54. "Invictus" was written from a
 hospital bed.

        -- <[broken link] http://www2.rpa.net/~jlungu/poem.htm>

Links:

<http://elnom.com/eom/invictus.html>

No comment.

56 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

RPKrecker said...

I am pleased to be able to be reintroduced to this poem through the
convenience of the web. Unfortunately it was distorted and stained today at
the execution of Mc Veigh.

Thank you for your site.

Richard P. Krecker

Ruth Bonner said...

If this is Rice from Elwood we gotta talk.
otherwise.
This is the New anthem of the freedom fighter.
Tim McVeigh just put this poem into the history books in more ways than
one.

Tony MacDonald said...

This poem, stressing the struggle of the individual, has forever been
smeered by a coward. A man oppressed faces his persecutors. If McVeigh,
or others, believe "Invictus" is an anthem then there is one ironical
question. What is an anarchist doing with an anthem?

HPazmino said...

This beautiful poem is a testament to the nature of the human spirit. It is
an inspiring work to read in dificult times. It is the type of ideals that
encourage patriots like the ones we had figthing for us in wwII and wwI. It
is not meant to inspire criminals or mass murderous. These so called freedom
fighters are nothing but ignorant rednecks that need to be put away for good.
A true American

Urska Dolinsek said...

All I wanted to say is that people shouldn't judge a poem by a person who
happened to quote it. Just enjoy the poem itself.

Urska

Queen_Mary_Lee said...

I am a Wiccan. This poem speaks volumes for me! It is about personal
responsibility, the Wiccan way.

Bright Blessings!

Kjetil A. Halleraker said...

"Invictus" describes the mindset of heroes, the struggle of good vs.
evil.

McVeigh was not the master of his fate.

McVeigh was a terrorist and a coward; thus the poem remains unstained.

-K. Halleraker

Elise Wiliams said...

To whom it may concern, my name is Melissa Williams and I live in Pensacola, Florida. I am writing you because I wanted to tell William E. Henley that me and my Business systems and technology class typed his poem "Invictus". But as I see he has deceased. But what I am wondering is, if he died in 1903, how did he write "Indictus" in 1999? Well, thank you for your time and please do not reply to this e-mail address. Please reply to . Thank you.
P.S. Sincerely,
to send me a message Melissa R. Williams
to ,
just click on the blue address.

Happydap said...

For those who are personally unfamilar with the mental condition of
depression, it is understandable why they may not see that the poem
"Invictus" is about living this life fully despite suffering the affliction
of depression. "Out of the night that covers me, black is the pit from pole
to pole"..........need anyone say more?

PARIS ROSS said...

THIS MAN WAS YET ANOTHER LOST AND DEPRESSED
SOUL. THIS POEM IS HIS WAY OF GIVING HIMSELF THE STRENGTH TO GO ON. THIS WAS MOST LIKELY ONE OF THE POINTS IN HIS LIFE WHEN SUICIDE WAS LOOKING LIKE AN OPTION.

GeminiPrncess688 said...

hey a book published his work in 1999 but he wrote it during his life time

RobRoyB said...

Anyone who thinks he is the "master of his fate" or the "captain of his
soul" is a fool. The poem is an anthem for Secular Humanists who think they
control their life. God is in control. He is the Master. He is the Captain. If you
choose not to believe that you are in for a surprise.

GMCoffey said...

The last verse was my spouse's motto when first we met and later married
many years ago.
I was looking up the rest to quote to a friend and found the information on
the author whose ability to overcome such horrific circumstances is as
informative and inspiring as his poem.
Thank you for making it available for we who allow petty grievances to
sometimes overtake us.

Gerry

David Anderson said...

As a plebe (freshman) at the U.S. Naval Academy, I was reqquired to memorize this poem. Now, 45 years later I can see how this attitude has made all the difference. I am now 4 years distant from brain surgery and streatment of a malgnant tumor and have, among other things, leaned on this poem for support and healing.

D.M. Anderson

phubeli said...

To me Inviticus talks about the strength of soul and heart that is needed to live a full and productive life while living with a very painful and incurable disease. This poem says that he will not let his disease conquer him. He marches forth, taking full responsibility for himself. How rare that is in today's world where we are all to apt to lay responsibility for things on the shoulders of others.

Mallika Chellappa said...

I think this just carries the theme of the karma-yogi. Do your duty and leave everything else to Fate or God. Don't wallow in self-pity, at any cost.
PG Wodehouse fans will recognise Bertie's frequent references to this poem: "under the umpty-tums of tiddly-pom", ably completed by Jeeves.
Thus are classics reduced to venality - maybe the fore-runner to "familiarity breeds contempt"?
BTW the phrase "captain of my soul" brings to mind the Edgar Wallace novel "Captains of Souls", which again reminds me of Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities".
Mallika

Samuelh8 said...

Henley's Invictus is a typical example of one man's triumph over adversity,
and as human beings we can take solace from his words when we are faced with
ours. Our spirits are enriched in the sharing of such profound lines, as
they apply to our everyday lives.
I have not met the man, but my life is richer by his words.

Kaththea said...

Response to your inquiry about Invictus and William Ernest Henley. I read this poem in the 7th grade in 1957. It was a part of our literature class. It wasn't written in 1999. The poem remained obscure and known only to poetry lovers until Timothy McVeigh managed to deface it by using it as his (anthem?) at his execution. It is an embarrassment to find that a murderer and terrorist recited a poem I truly love. It has been my inspiration since the 7th grade to hold my head high, no matter what, and to do good works. Not go around murdering people. Don't you know that now, even the FBI will be looking askance at those of us who truly understand the meaning of the poem written by a cripple facing death because of a bone disease and not by a murder facing execution for his evil deeds. You are evidently too young to know the meaning of the poem since you thought it was written in 1999, 93 years after the authors death. I'm 60 years old and sometimes it is a toss up between "The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner" and Invictus. "The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner" was also written before our time and I also learned that long poem in the 7th grade. It was written by Samuel Tyler Colleridge.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. This is a quote from those who advised me with I was young. So, as you learn one thing, face the fact that there is so much more you need to know. Don't limit your knowledge.

Roger W.Ek said...

Invictus should not be associated with terrorists and murderers. It is
the anthem of patriots everywhere. It is far more known and understood
in the patriot community than liberals knew before their discovery of
it. The ideas are not new. The spirit is timeless.

"First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to
do."

-- Epictetus

Robinson Mary J said...

I too went through a very rough time and the poem by William Ernest
Henley helped me through those times. It has become my anthem in bad
times, a pick-me-up as it were! Some think this poem cannot be embraced
by Christians but I disagree. I think as we are made in God's image he
has given us the grace to make choices and thereby becoming the Master
of our fate.

Mary J. Robinson

Asset Management

Ph. 858-1413

Pastor Kipp said...

In my Harvard Classics, (Vol. 42 - Pg. 1258) instead of giving the title "Invictus" the poem is given the title "To R.T.H.B." -- What does that mean?

Nardi58 said...

i would like to know what R.T.H.B. mean I received the the poem from one of
my instructors in Long Beach Ca, the year 1999 and the poem has been with me
ever since. I 'm going through some rough times now but i enjoy reading William
Ernest Hennely.A litle back ground about me i'm a returning student after 30
years and i am enjoying my self 48 and in college for the first time i'm not
ready to grow up yet.

Bill Hinkel said...

For the life of me, I do not understand why HPazmino uses the term " ignorant rednecks" in his/her comments. Of course, rednecks, what ever the term means, are not allowed to be patriots and no redneck fought in WW11 or
W1. Perhaps he/she should have signed off
" A true ignorant American "
^

FontanezVIDA said...

What if TM quoted the 23 Psalm? Would he have deminished it? I think not. Tim
McViegh quoted this poem out of bravado becasue he knew his ass was grass.
This poem is an eternal testament to those who refuse to allow circumstances
to control or defeat them. It will never be such for someone who tries to
excuse or rationalize acts against humanity.

Thatiswattitis said...

I am so appalled at so many of the comments that I have read. It
disheartens me that there are so many individuals "out there" that are either
illiterate slobs or just so plain ignorant that they fail to grasp any the true
essence of this poem. It frightens me to acknowledge that there are people such as
this. I find it nothing short of a disgrace. It is bad enough that the
concepts are so distorted but to actually have their words mispelled as well is
more than I can stand. I not only thank God for my unconquerable soul but thank
him in advance for not allowing me to ever cross their tawdry paths for it
would do irreparable damage.

ROBERT R BRIGGS said...

I learned this poem over 60 years ago in grade school. Since that time I have found that I am NOT the master of my fate, nor the captain of my soul. Have you ever considered that maybe God has those controls? I think He does a much better job!
Bob Briggs
Santa Barbara, CA

Lakia Tom said...

I am no fool and I am the master of my fate.

There is no god, only nonsense and superstition.

Thomas Lakia

Electrical Inspector

City of San

KERMIT LAMB said...

INVICTUS
William Ernest Henley
(Humanist) MY CAPTAIN
Dorothea Day
(Christian)
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.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

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. Out of the night that dazzles me,
Bright as the sun from pole to pole,
I thank the God I know to be
For Christ the conqueror of my soul.

Since His the sway of circumstance,
I would not wince nor cry aloud.
Under that rule which men call chance
My head with joy is humbly bowed.

Beyond this place of sin and tears
That life with Him! And His the aid,
Despite the menace of the years,
Keeps, and shall keep me, unafraid.
I have no fear, though strait the gate,
He cleared from punishment the scroll.
Christ is the Master of my fate,
Christ is the Captain of my soul.

a.. Self-sufficiency
a.. "God helps those who help themselves" (not in the Bible, despite popular opinion)
a.. What we can do
a.. Total dependence on God
a.. "Justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1)
a.. What Christ has done

We wanted you to view a Christian's response to Mr Henley's defiant sufficiency. Did he never hear of the
sufficiency of Christ ? Why had he apparently rejected any form of trust in God ?

Gina Van Schoor said...

@ Rob Roy :

That's rubbish!
Look, if there is a God, you still are the master of your soul. When you stand before God you cannot say "but I was told by others to do thus" or that "virtue was not convinient at the time. This will not suffice. Remember that.You cannot say before God: Under the circumstances it dind't really fit to act to my beliefs = not staying true to your soul. you can be the captain of you soul and still belief in God

Jim Huff said...

R.T.H.B. stands for "Read The Holy Bible"

Henley appears to be a deeply religious person and believes (believed) God
gave us the ability to choose our own fates. Thus making us the master of
our souls.

hearurscream said...

You my friend, are the fool. Do you realize how arrogant and igorant that comment was? Stick to your own vices, that's fine, but leave this kind of religious trash to yourself.

kathy sorrell said...

Although I can see where the secular world would get inspiration from this poem, Christians should see that he has truly denounced the one and only true God. And it does matter how strait the gate is, for Jesus said: strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

Edward Goldsmith said...

Dear Sir:
For a while I was consulting a professional who, unasked by me,
began to recite Henley's Invictus, a poem which I had not heard of
prior to then. It turned out that he was an atheist, and enjoyed
flaunting that fact, once he learned that I had some religiosity.

Later on, years later, I researched that particular poem on the
internet, and I enjoyed your feisty take on Henley's poem, expressed
in a "minstrels" website. Of course neither you nor the secularists
can really know whether or not God is in control. Why do I say that?
Because it seems quite impossible to prove whether or not God exists.

You wrote, as RobRoyB: "Anyone who thinks he is the 'master of
his fate' or 'the captain of his soul' is a fool. The poem is an
anthem for Secular Humanists who think they control their life. God
is in control. He is the Master. He is the Captain. If you choose not
to believe that you are in for a surprise."

Your comment informed me a bit as to why the atheist recited
that poem in my presence. He obviously knew that it was a secular
anthem, and enjoyed throwing it in my face. If you have a comment on
my email note, I would like to read it. All the best!
Ed Goldsmith

Dallastls said...

When given the choice of a poem to memorize and present in high school, I
chose this one....back in the early 70's.
I do not think I fully appreciated it until I went thru two bouts of cancer
5 yrs ago....took on a whole new meaning.
I agree that it is horrible that McVeigh chose to quote this
poem.....however, the poem will stand the test of time......

Anonymous said...

I learned of this poem years ago in middle school (I think), but after I received Christ as my Savior and Lord, I began to think that Henley disregarded God and His authority over all creation. He created ALL things (John 1:1). He cannot possibly be Captain of His soul, as the Bible says "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." "The wages of sin is death." If one does not acknowledge his or her sinful state (John 3:16, 17), then. sheol is the destiny. Henley did not seem to know that or rejected that. God has the last word.

Levie

chandlerskr said...

christianity only applies to christians... atheism only applies to atheist... religion is like a penis... dont pull it out in public... dont wave it in my face... and dont shove it down the throats of children...

Anonymous said...

I remember reading this long ago, and it's good to read it again. Now that I'm older and more seasoned, parts of this feel 'closer,' while others feel more distant.

And with regards to any "theology" or religious doctrine, as with any icon, there are those who will impute meaning and substance to satisfy themselves and claim kinship, regardless of the author's intent.

In the end, these are merely words on paper, the thoughts of a man shared with whomever would read them. Accept them in whatever manner you find them and let others do the same. Few things sap the enjoyment of literature than to have some "authority" expound upon what I (or anyone else) *should* be getting from it.

That said, I am a Christian. And as a Christian, I find myself occasionally "inspired" by things that are not expressly Christian, but that cause to me to reflect and meditate upon Christ, regardless of the author's personal faith or intent.

Invictus is noble because it causes us to reflect upon things bigger than we are.

That is Henley's gift to us. Accept it or not, but please let it be.

Hermine Clouser said...

Wow, it has been fascinating to read the poem and the comments. I looked up "bloodied and unbowed" because it described my 94 year mother after a fall. It represents an attitude of stoicism..important to believer and non believer alike. As a Christian however, I personally accept Christ as my master and captain of my soul. This belief allows me to relinquish control in certain life and death situations... the timing of my mother's passing is in the Lord's hands... the pregnancy of my daughter, the births of children and grandchildren I do not wish to interfere with under the secular banner of being in control of my "fate".

Anonymous said...

I tend to take the last stanza as a self-help. But also a christian stand. "I am the master of my fate." I with faith in God can pull myself out of financial strain. Faith and commitment to GOD. I am the only one that got me in financial trouble. I can control that, and I with constant meditation with GOD can get me out. "I am the captain of my soul." I decided to lean on GOD as my savior, God loves his children that calls on him. I call on my God. I believe that God sent Jesus as our savior, he that believes in him will have eternal life. So therefore I am bringing myself closer to God. "I am the captain of my soul." I am making a conscientious choice to follow God's word to save my soul.

Anonymous said...

I DO LIKE THIS VERSION BETTER!!!!

Out of the night that dazzles me,
Bright as the sun from pole to pole,
I thank the God I know to be
For Christ the conqueror of my soul.

Since His the sway of circumstance,
I would not wince nor cry aloud.
Under that rule which men call chance
My head with joy is humbly bowed.

Beyond this place of sin and tears
That life with Him! And His the aid,
Despite the menace of the years,
Keeps, and shall keep me, unafraid.
I have no fear, though strait the gate,
He cleared from punishment the scroll.
Christ is the Master of my fate,
Christ is the Captain of my soul.

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Anonymous said...

According to various sources the poem was originally published without title and with a dedication "To R.T.H.B.", referring to Robert Thomas Hamilton Bruce, a wealthy Scottish patron of literature.

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Anonymous said...

The world's most eloquent suicide note. "It matters not how
strait the gate" -- meaning, no matter how difficult the task.
"How charged with punishment the scroll" - the scroll is the
Bible, which forbids suicide. "I am the master of my fate" --
I will do what I wish, despite everything. It's the only way to end
my black misery.

Anonymous said...

maybe we are not the master of our fate nor the captain of our fate though this poem means something,which is to keep holding on to every trials may come...it's stand against being broken or consumed by the negativities in life...

Anonymous said...

don't criticize the poem...we have our own freedom to express our thoughts and feeling,just respect...............thanks

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