"Invictus" by William Ernest Henley


William Ernest Henley wrote this, now famous, short poem in 1875 in response to a challenging personal situation. As a young boy Henley's left leg was amputated due to his battle with tuberculosis. Later in his life, it appeared that he would also lose his right leg. Hoping for an alternate conclusion, Henley sought expert medical help to save his remaining leg. Through a series of painful surgeries, his hopes were realized. While in the lengthy process of recovery, he crafted his first drafts of this poem. 

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.

Reflection Questions

  1. What literal or figurative speech does Henley use to communicate his message? 
  2. What do you think "the fell clutch of circumstance" means? 
  3. How do you interpret the third stanza? 
  4. In what ways does this poem engage with the idea of growth through obstacles? 

This content is provided to you freely by BYU Open Learning Network.

Access it online or download it at https://open.byu.edu/new/henley.