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Invictus by William Ernest Henley
Transcript of Invictus by William Ernest Henley
by William Ernest Henley
Parallels Between "Invictus" and Henley's Life
"Invictus" was written by Henley when he was in the hospital with tuberculosis. While in his twenties he contracted a tubercular infection that led to his leg being amputated below the knee. Later he developed the same infection in his other leg and was told it would have to be removed as well. Henley refused to have it amputated and sought the help of a doctor who had developed antiseptic medicine. Twenty months later Henley had finally recovered and was able to leave the hospital. It was during this dark time in his life when he wrote "Invictus" (Invictus: A Study Guide). When you read the poem you can see how passionate he felt: “I thank whatever gods may be / For my unconquerable soul” (Henley). Instead of succumbing to despair, Henley was able to be thankful that, though his body was beaten, his soul wasn’t.
Even in the midst of horrible circumstances, Henley refused to let life defeat him, but instead he rose up and fought back: “In the fell clutch of circumstance / I have not winced nor cried aloud” (Henley). He did not waste his time despairing over what he had lost, but instead focused on getting better. You can also see how desperately determined he was: “I am the master of my fate / I am the captain of my soul” (Henley). He refused to submit to the idea that someone else was in control of his life. In the poem he cites “the bludgeonings of chance,” which shows he felt it was simply fate that this happened to him, and yet he went on to defiantly state that he was in control of his own destiny (Henley). By looking closely at "Invictus", you can clearly see the struggles that Henley went through in his own life.
Speaker: William Henley
Line : 4 Lines
Stanza : Quatrain
Rhythm and Meter
: Iambic Tetrameter
Rhyme : End Rhyme
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.
1. What is the chief quality of the person speaking in the poem?
William Henley was courageous despite the circumstances that were happening before him. His body was almost dying yet his soul remained strong. Instead of giving up his leg, he found another way to cure himself. His strong desire to survive enabled his to defy the odds and made a solution to his problem.
2. What has happened as implied in the first two lines?
- The first two lines describe the suffering that the speaker experienced, describing it as some sort of metaphorical darkness. In William Henley’s case, his “darkness” is actually described in his suffering from his amputated leg, in which he had undergone painful procedures and methods just to cure him.
3. Explain the full significance of the last two lines.
- It means that we control our own fate, through making decisions and choices in life. William Henley wanted a better life of his own and made a choice of finding another way in order to cure him rather than removing his leg in which the doctors recommended. Like Henley, we should not be easily moved by the external influences of others. We must think twice in making these decisions for it shape our future.
4. Are the expressed in the poem pessimistic or optimistic?
- Optimistic because it gives a sense of hope to the speaker no matter how difficult situations may be, we can always find a solution if we control our own fate.
5. Do you think that a person holding the same philosophy of life as the speaker’s will succeed in life?
In our opinion, people who hold the same philosophy as the speaker will become successful because the philosophy is all about taking control of one’s life and to remain in control even in trying times. The philosophy of the speaker also holds a lot of positive values like courage and optimism.
The theme of "Invictus"is one that appeals to most people. It is the idea that you control your fate more than anyone else ever will. In a world that cares nothing for us and often seems to be trying to destroy us, we can overcome all odds and be victorious because we, and we alone, are masters of our own fate. This is proven through the circumstances that the poem was written under. Instead of submitting to the original prognosis of the doctors and having his other leg removed, Henley chose to take charge of his life, find a new doctor, and ultimately change the course of his life. The theme is one of triumph and survival. This theme was carried over into the film Invictus. It can be seen in Nelson Mandela’s rise from prisoner to President, in the rugby team’s climb from national embarrassment to national champions, and in South Africa’s transition from apartheid to unity. Despite all odds, despite all expectations, they took control of their destinies and came out victorious.
"Invictus" is a powerful and well written poem, and it is made so because of how it so perfectly relates to the author’s life. The fact that Henley wrote this during a dark time in his life added a wealth of emotion to the poem; he was writing from his heart and it was obvious. The overarching theme of the poem is relevant to everyone because when it comes down to it, we all want to feel like our life actually has meaning and is not just a sum of chance circumstances and happenings.