William Ernest Henley


Let’s read together: Invictus by William Ernest Henley

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.


Notes on: Invictus

Invictus” is a Latin word meaning “never defeated” or “unconquered”.

William Ernest Henley wrote this poem in 1875 on a hospital bed and it was first published in 1888 in the “Book of Verses”.

Early publications of this text contained a dedication “A R. T. H. B.” and they referred to a Scottish literary patron: Robert Thomas Hamilton Bruce (1846 – 1899).

Since childhood, the author suffered from a severe form of bone tuberculosis (Pott’s disease) with which he fought throughout his life. Despite the difficulties caused by the disease (at the age of 17 his leg was also amputated), Henley managed to finish his studies and take up journalism and was never discouraged.
For 30 years he lived with an artificial prosthesis and died at the age of 53.

Henley was a friend of Robert Louis Stevenson who was inspired by him when creating his famous “Treasure Island” character, the pirate Long John Silver.

The last verse of “Invictus” is quoted by Oscar Wilde in a letter he wrote while in prison following his conviction for homosexuality.
In the letter Oscar Wilde writes: “I was no longer captain of my soul”.

Nelson Mandela in the years of his imprisonment during Apartheid often used this poem to give himself courage.


To read Invictus in Italian, click here!

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