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.
Written in the late 19th century, this poem has a storied history. It was penned by William Ernest Henley; as a young man, he endured a very painful operation on his foot and eventually lost it. In the midst of his suffering, he wrote the words to what would ultimately be titled “Invictus,” which means unconquered or undefeated. It is the only literary offering Henley is known for.
The poem has inspired everyone from FDR and the songwriter Leonard Cohen to Jack Lalanne and Andre Agassi. While held on Robben Island prison for 27 years, Nelson Mandela gathered strength from its words and its message of self-mastery. He also recited it to other prisoners to give them courage. The poem has been cited in numerous films, including Casablanca and the film Invictus directed by Clint Eastwood. How amazing to think that one poem penned by a young Englishman in pain should have given so many so much hope inspiration. Words truly do matter. Write on.