Invictus – William Ernest Henley
“Invictus” is an adjective in Latin meaning ‘unconquerable’. Here are the reasons why Invictus is a powerful poem.
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 first four lines we understand that there is pitch black darkness disguised as a gloomy problem or despair and there seems to be no way out of it. He ‘prays’ to the gods in most agnostic way possible by saying ‘whatever gods may be’. But even as he prays, he doesn’t ask for strength to deal with the crisis looming overhead, he simply thanks them for the strength he already has. That itself is an indication of how is soul is invincible.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
The second stanza stands tall and continues to tell the tale of a courageous soul that never complained once in the wake of difficult circumstances; a soul that never flinched once even as the problems were staring into its eyes. The power is demonstrated as the poet writes ‘ bloody, but unbowed’ which tells us that he’d rather endure the beating than call for a surrender.
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.
I know that I am living a life filled with constant threats and I know that the future holds a greater problem (death, perhaps). But I know that all the troubles I have sustained over the years have prepared me to face what lies ahead.
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.
The meaning of ‘strait gate’ is judgement day and even then, he recognizes no one but himself as his own master. Only he can decide what is to be done with his soul and hence, his fate. This is makes it evident that he has strong will.
The poem continues to inspire many because of the feeling it incites that you alone can control your fate, you alone know what is best for you and you alone know which path you choose. It is a poem that’s strong at heart and strong-headed.