Monday, March 12, 2012


I was just reading about the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley. (It's below)

I first came across it when I was in school in Ireland at about the age of 16... in English Literature class. I loved the poem back then... mostly because as a 16 year old boy, hard core poems about "bludgeoning" and "blood" go over well.

I didn't know any of the history of the poem.


1. Henley wrote it in 1875 when he was 26 and it was about losing his leg below the knee to tuberculosis.

2. Nelson Mandela kept it on a scrap of paper in his cell during his 27 year incarceration.

3. In the recent movie, Invictus, Mandela (Morgan Freeman) gives the captain of the South African rugby squad (Matt Damon) a copy of the poem before the final game of the 1995 World Cup in which they are to face the heavily favoured New Zealand All Blacks. The Springboks (South Africans) go on to win.

4. In reality Mandela gave the Springbok captain (Francois Pienaar) an excerpt from The Man in the Arena speech by Theodore Roosevelt. This quote has always been one of my favourites - see it on the sidebar.

5. Invictus is latin for unconquered.

For these reasons Invictus has now joined the excerpt from Man in the Arena as my favourite pieces of literature. What amazing stories and coincidences.


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, 1875

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Missy said...

What! Have you been busy or something?!! Where you been? Yeah, I know, me too, crazy go nuts.

I really need to check out that movie, looks great.

Mike said...

Woah, coincidence indeed!

I kid you not, this is my favorite poem of all time for a very different reason and I've been able to recite the last two phrases by memory since I was a boy.

When my Great Grandpa Otto died (I was maybe 10 or 12), I found an original book of phrases, quotes, poems, etc, barely still hanging together by a thread-bare spine. This was one of the best preserved pages in the book and he'd marked the margins with pencil which made me think it had been important to him as well. The last phrase obviously grabbed me.

I had no idea it was about losing his leg. Incredible! Thanks for posting this Meyrick.

Maris said...

This poem has an undeniable powerful charge to it that one can't help but feel emboldened every time he reads it. I've never really read it thoroughly if you had not blogged about it. Thanks!

Holly Salsman said...

What an inspiring poem! I love the history you included as well, about who found inspiration from it.

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Linda Pendleton said...

Interesting about the history of the poem. I had no idea, either, and actually have never paid much attention to it except for the last two lines. This gives it a whole new meaning, especially for those of us who have lost a leg. Thanks for sharing, Meyrick.

Disabled Schools said...

I've read Invictus and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by it! It really is a great story!

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Kim Sparling said...

My favorite poem! I had no idea about the history behind it, pretty rad.

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