A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
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 Henley’s ‘Invictus’ was written in 1875 when the author was still in his mid-twenties, and originally published in 1888 without its distinctive title which is Latin for ‘unconquered’.
When Henley was 16 years old, his left leg was amputated due to complications arising from tuberculosis. In the early 1870s, he was told that his right leg would also require amputation. Instead, he chose to travel to Edinburgh to enlist the services of the distinguished English surgeon Joseph Lister, who was able to save Henley’s remaining leg after multiple surgical interventions on the foot. While recovering in the infirmary, Henley was moved to write the verses that eventually became “Invictus”.
A memorable evocation of steadfast courage, the poem has often inspired strength during times of extreme duress:
In popular culture, the poem is often recited, sometimes ironically or apocryphally:
This post was compiled by Michael Simms for Vox Populi.