Poetry Turnstile: William Ernest Henley (1849 – 1903)

I was in the company of a kindly friend recently, who recited the following poem to me. (This was particularly, especially wonderful in itself, given the number of people who allow or indulge in poetry these days.) As with most people (I imagine), I was familiar with the last few lines, though otherwise ignorant of the handsomely bearded Mr. William Ernest Henley.

Henley wrote this poem in 1875, though it wasn’t published until 1888. It was originally published without a title as the fourth in a series of poems entitled, Life and Death (echoes). It was then republished under the title, Invictus (unconquerable), in 1900 in The Oxford Book of English Verse.

Apparently – that is, according to the Wiki entry that I read – it was initially admired and acclaimed for its expression of ‘stoicism.’ What this means across such an expanse of time, I’m not sure. Personally, it reminded me of Max Stirner’s less than handsome brand of existentialism, though this was a less-kindly after-though. I really do love this poem.

Anyway, I’m always thankful for being introduced to new poetry. Here it is:


‘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.’




1 Comment

Filed under Poetry turnstile

One response to “Poetry Turnstile: William Ernest Henley (1849 – 1903)

  1. Pingback: Poetry Turnstile: Frank O’Hara | Fieldnotes & Footnotes

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