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 bludgeoning 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.
Invictus, meaning “unconquerable” or “undefeated” in Latin, is a poem by William Ernest Henley. The poem takes us on a journey of courage in the face of death and holding on to one’s dignity even though life is often filled with indignities. As a teen, Henley was in the hospital receiving treatment for tuberculosis of the bone. Shortly after his foot was amputated, he penned these words of unfaltering resilience and timeless encouragement.
I went on a hunt for an understanding of some ancient and painful practices and managed to find these words. Nelson Mandela credited them as the words that kept him unconquerable when the indignities of apartheid prisoned him both physically and psychologically.
In spite of these ordeals, Mandela persevered. Morgan Freeman, who played the role of Madella in the biographic film “Invictus,” discusses Mandela’s reliance on William Ernest Henley’s 1875 poem, “Invictus,” to keep his hope alive:
“That poem was his favorite… When he lost courage, when he felt like just giving up — just lie down and not get up again — he would recite it. And it would give him what he needed to keep going.”
We may not all suffer the same indignities as Mandela. We do; however, all struggle to make our way in this world, strive to be who we are and even at times suffer for our choices. On those days it is good to know we are not alone. To know that when others struggled, they were able to be themselves and remain unchanged, despite the forces against them. They, we, are stronger than those that speak against us, than those that fight for our demise, we shall not go quietly into the night. When they come to find us, they will discover that our heads may be bloody, but they are not bowed. And I thank my God for my unconquerable soul.
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