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
Invictus is a Latin word for ‘unconquerable’ or ‘undefeated. In the poem, the speaker speaks about overcoming any adversity with strength. During his night prayer to God, the speaker thanks him for bestowing courage upon his soul.
His life has many triumphs and disasters but in any adverse and difficult situation, he has never flinched, feared or cried. Here, “chance” is used as a metaphor. “Chance” implies misfortune or a difficult circumstance. Metamorphically, misfortune has hit the speaker hard many times and made his head “bloody”, but that did not let him bow down before misfortune. In any case of misfortune, when fate turns upside down, the speaker never lets himself down. He never bowed down before misfortune as a slave.
The world we live in has people with sorrows, hate, and anger. But beyond this world, there is an afterlife. In this world, we fall prisoners to chance and misfortune, but beyond this world, across the unknown, even after death the soul faces undesirable hardships. But, the speaker remains undefeated. The problems through his life and afterlife will not shake him. “It matters not how strait the gate,” is an allusion from the bible.
“Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few be there that find it.”- Matthew 17:3-14
“Scroll” is an imagery of heaven. After death, the soul is charged with punishments for the sins and sent to either heaven or hell. For him to go to heaven or hell, depends on his own actions, the speaker is the master of his fate, he is the sole authority of how pure his soul can be.
Invictus is a Victorian poem which speaks about a person’s ability to face fear, sorrow, and adversity. W.E. Henley needed strength to battle tubercular arthritis at the age of 12.
He wrote this poem in 1875, when he was at the hospital getting a treatment for tuberculosis of his bones. He had his left leg amputated at the knee. the poem was later published in 1888.