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Invictus

April 27th, 2016 ·No Comments

Ronbo and I were talking on the phone about stress and he referenced the last two lines of a poem and they question arose, “Who wrote it?” Well, it was a fellow named Henley . . . William Ernest, 1849-1903. Wikipedia gives an explanation of the genesis of the poem and I have cited it below.

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 gait,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.[1]

From Wikipedia:

Henley’s literary reputation rests almost entirely on this single poem.[6] In 1875 one of Henley’s legs required amputation due to complications arising from tuberculosis. Immediately after the amputation he was told that his other leg would require a similar procedure. He chose instead to enlist the services of the distinguished surgeon Joseph Lister, who was able to save Henley’s remaining leg after multiple surgical interventions on the foot.[7]

While recovering in the infirmary, he was moved to write the verses that became “Invictus”. This period of his life, coupled with recollections of an impoverished childhood, were primary inspirations for the poem, and play a major role in its meaning.[8]

Influence

  • C. S. Lewis included a quote from the last stanza in Book 5, chapter 3 of his early autobiographical work The Pilgrim’s Regress (1933).
  • In a speech to the House of Commons on 9 September 1941, Winston Churchill paraphrased the last two lines of the poem, stating “We are still masters of our fate. We still are captain of our souls.”[9]
  • In the 1942 film Casablanca, Captain Renault, an official played by Claude Rains, recites the last two lines of the poem when talking to Rick Blaine, played by Humphrey Bogart, referring to his power in Casablanca.
  • In the 1942 film Kings Row, Parris Mitchell, a psychiatrist played by Robert Cummings, recites the first two stanzas of “Invictus” to his friend Drake McHugh, played by Ronald Reagan, before revealing to Drake that his legs were unnecessarily amputated by a cruel doctor.

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