Poetry Corner Invictus


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

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.


About the Poem

Invictus is a poem which focuses on the strength of the human spirit, and its ability to overcome all types of adversity. It is a rallying cry for those who find themselves in dark and difficult situations: When you have to dig deep and fight for your life. Fight to survive tough times physically, mentally, emotionally. I memorized it myself in 1999, during my first stint in physical rehab. I have found it running through my head many times over the years. I find it very powerful.

About the author

William Ernest Henley (born 23 August 1849, died 11 July 1903) was a poet, editor and literary critic. He was born in Gloucester, England, and educated at Crypt Grammar School, where he studied with the poet T.E. Brown. Henley then studied at the University of St. Andrews. His father was a struggling bookseller who died when Henley was a teenager.

At the age of 12, Henley was diagnosed with tubercular arthritis. It necessitated the amputation of one of his legs just below the knee; the other foot was saved through a radical surgery. As he healed in the infirmary, Henley began to write poems, including “Invictus,” which concludes with the oft-referenced lines “I am the master of my fate; / I am the captain of my soul.”

Henley’s poems often have themes of inner strength and perseverance. His collections of poetry include A Book of Verses (1888), London Voluntaries (1893), and Hawthorn and Lavender (1899). Henley edited the Scots Observer (which later became the National Observer), through which he became friends with writer Rudyard Kipling. ,He also edited Magazine of Art, in which he lauded the work of emerging artists James McNeill Whistler and Auguste Rodin. Henley was a close friend of Robert Louis Stevenson, who reportedly based his Long John Silver character in Treasure Island in part on Henley.


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