“Invictus” is a poem filled with the interpretations and vision of the author. It was written by the great William Ernest Henley in 1875. The word invictus itself, is Latin for “unconquerable”. This theme is carried on throughout the poem in stanza’s, most obviously, “for my unconquerable soul.” The theme is derivative from the experiences Henley was going through at the time he wrote this classic. The sickness that wracked his body, tuberculosis, and his battle with it, inspired “Invictus”. Henley had been diagnosed with tuberculosis at the young age of twelve. His foot had become infected and therefore was amputated. Although advised by surgeons, Henley refused to have his other foot suffer the same fate. Henley lived a full life until the age of fifty-six.The poem was written while Henley was still hospitalized.
“Invictus” begins by introducing demons, obstacles, or a negative presence. This is represented by “Out of the night that covers me”. “Night” meaning Henley’s challenges, more specifically, his tuberculosis. The poem describes the “night” to be “Black as the Pit from pole to pole”. Meaning that this “night” is no mere obstacle. It is something warranting fear, being large, and dark, something able to “cover” or take over him if he did not have the strength to overcome it. Yet, he states in the last stanzas of the paragraph that he has just that, strength. “I thank whatever gods may be For my unconquerable soul”. His “unconquerable soul” is the strength that he posesses that does not allow him to be taken over by illness, or “night”.
He goes on in the second paragraph to say that “In the fell clutch of circumstance, I have not winced nor cried aloud”. This simply states that whatever he may be going through (i.e. the amputation or pain of his leg) he has not outwardly express the agony inside of him. “Under the bludgeons of chance, My head is bloody, but unbowed.” Through the cruelty of fate, whatever he suffered through, he may have been hurt physically, emotionally, or mentally he did not give up. He did not bow down, he held his head high against his demons and showed no fear for his future. This shows his courage, determination and honor.
“Beyond this place of wrath and tears” means the sorrowful and hard times that were present, “Looms but the horror of the Shade” were only leading up to the what is undeniably worse. “And yet the menace of the years, Finds, and shall find, me unafraid” means in knowing that such horrible events could or will get worse, he faces them with even more bravery and conviction than if he hadn’t known.
In the last paragraph of this poem Henley finishes powerfully. “It matters not how straight the gait” meaning it didn’t matter how confined, strict or one-way it had seemed. “How charged with punishments the scroll” meaning no matter how many times his actions may have backfired, his regret for his decisions or what the consequences were for his choices. “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” He was the one in control. He could change the outcomes, he would direct of his own future. Henley would not give into his tuberculosis, he would change his fate and fight with his strength. He knew who he was and he would conquer his demons.


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