Wednesday, 11 February 2009

W E Henley's Invictus

The poet W E Henley lived with a torture almost beyond bearing. From childhood he suffered from tubercular arthritis. Every day for the last years of his life he woke to more physical pain than the years before said J M Barrie.
Henley described his amputated foot as: a passion for itching, a mass of blisters.
Burly, boisterous and piratic W E Henley was R L Stevenson's inspiration for the character Long John Silver in Treasure Island. The poem that follows was written in 1875 after a two year stay in hospital. A man of true courage he remained unconquered.


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.

W E Henley (1849-1903)


  1. You don't know how much I needed to read this. I have so down for the last two days. I need to remind myself that "yes" there are those in worse shape than myself and stop my whining.
    Thank you. Again.

  2. I'm sorry to learn that you've been down Cathy. You strike me as an upbeat philosphical type. But it's an amazing poem isn't it? Those last 2 lines make the ants run up the back of my neck.

  3. Those last two lines are so well-known but I had no idea where they came from, Poet. It is such a strong poem - I think that some people with these awful life-long illnesses find incredible strength to deal with their misfortune and I think that comes over in the poem.

  4. Weaver,
    I agree with every word you say! It's a definite fridge magnet poem.
    I saw my first lamb 2 days ago.

  5. I don't mena I saw my first lamb 2 days ago. That's ridiculous.
    I mena I saw my first 2009 lamb 2 days ago.

  6. Thank you for the new translation. Too beautiful. I had to read it aloud and then my had my daughter read it as well.
    I am normally in a fair mind but I am afraid I just let things get to me.

  7. Cathy, I'm glad you liked them. They were just for you. They will not appear here. Today you can recall that exactly 200 years ago today Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born, or as I prefer it, arrived on this planet. They changed the world for the better, these two men, prophhets, angels, whatever you like to call them.
    12th February 1809 is a day that we would all do well to mark.

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