Invictus by William Ernest Henley

“Invictus” was written when Henley was in the hospital being treated for Tuberculosis of the bone, also known as Pott’s disease. The poem is about showing undivided courage in the face of death and keeping the dignity against all the hardships in life. The poem was dedicated to Robert Thomas Hamilton Bruce, a Scottish flour merchant.

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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.

Analysis of Henley’s ‘Invictus’

William Ernest Henley’s “Invictus” is written in iambic tetrameter, meaning that it has four bits or stresses in each line with a rhyming algorithm in all the four stanzas of the poem. Occasional spondees sharpen up the steady rhythm in the poem. The poet has kept the whole structure of the poem in a tight format having the rhyme scheme of abab cdcd efef ghgh.

Each quatrain in the poem portrays the speaker’s personal perspective in tackling situations in the face of adversity. The poet wanted to convey one universal message in the poem: no matter what life throws at you, no matter how bad it is, never, ever let it crumble you and get you down. The poet stated the immense strength of the human spirit in the depths of adversity and illustrated how in the darkest of times, and even when your own fate is against you, the human spirit is strong enough to withstand all the pain and struggle and push through.

In the first stanza the poet mentions that “night that covers me”. This night is used as a metaphor for the worldly hardships. But this night can also be perceived by the reader as a symbol of all the negative things in life, and in case of Henley, his struggles with emotional injuries and most importantly, his disease. In the next line “the pit from pole to pole” is the poet’s way of simply stating that he likes the darkness (sufferings) desolated to the center of the earth.

In lines 8-9 in the second stanza, Henley portrays himself as a hardy prisoner who won’t bow his head to the captors even after being beaten up, and bloody. In line 12 in the third stanza, “Horror of the shade” refers to the deep unknown across the threshold of life which might bear more hardships for the poet, but still is a concept born by poets throughout the ages. The poem ends with the poet’s bold and fearless affirmation that we ourselves are the decision makers in our lifetime and are the masters of our own fate.

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