Invictus

  • 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 (1849–1903), an influential poet, editor, and critic, was diagnosed at the age of 12 with tuberculosis of the bone, which led to the amputation of his left leg below the knee a few years later. Henley stayed almost two years in the Edinburgh Infirmary during which period he began to write poetry, much of which reflected his traumatic experiences as a patient. Some of the poems about his hospital experiences are considered among his most innovative and interesting ones. The young Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson visited Henley in the hospital and became a close friend and collaborator. In 1878, Henley married Anna Boyle, the younger sister of a fellow patient at the infirmary. Their daughter, Margaret Emma, who died from cerebral meningitis in 1894 at the age of six, was the model for the character of Wendy in J.M. Barrie’s classic novel for children, Peter Pan. The first volume of Henley’s poetry appeared in 1888 and he subsequently produced several more collections. He became the editor of several literary magazines and a major figure in the literary culture of late-Victorian England, as well as an important poet of the era. He died on July 11, 1903, at the age of 53 and was buried next to his daughter’s grave in the churchyard in a small village in Bedfordshire. His wife was later buried next to him. “Invictus” remains his best known and most admired poem.

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