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Wednesday, September 5, 2012


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.

That's Invictus, the masterwork of William Ernest Henley, and was fist published in 1875, when Henley was only 26. He contracted tuberculosis of the bone when he was a child, and at the age of 17, a leg was amputated. he was about to lose another when he chose to work with a different doctor, Joseph Lister (yes, the guy who invented 'Listerine'). He saved the leg, and went on to live a full life.

Invictus was a major support to Nelson Mandela during his years on Robbens Island (and lent its title to a 2009 movie about Mandela - well worth watching!); the last two lines are probably some of the most-quoted lines in English poetry.

I'd love to be able to claim a strong sense of identification with the spirit of this poem...but I can't. I've certainly seem my share of fell clutches of circumstance and bludgeonings, but if I'm honest, I've just gotten by. I can identify more with the Viet Nam mantra, "don't mean nothin'".

What about you? How do you relate to Invictus?

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