“Invictus” by William Ernest Henley Poem and Analysis

InvictusThe famous poem “Invictus” was written in 1875 by the English poet William Ernest Henley who wrote the poem without a title. It wasn’t until 1900 that Arthur Quiller-Couch included it in The Oxford Book of English Verse with the title “Invictus”. In this article, we will take a look at a summary and analysis of “Invictus”.

Summary

“Invictus” begins with the author stating everything is dark and black, yet the speaker still thanks God for having an “unconquerable soul”. The second stanza reiterates this by stating he “fell clutch of circumstance” but his head is “unbowed”. The next stanza has the speaker discussing “beyond this place” with him describing it as the “Horror of the shade”.

For the finale, the speaker says no matter how “strait the gate” or of the “punishments the scroll”, the speaker is still the master of his fate and soul.

Analysis

This is one of the poems in which knowing the author’s background is of great help. In this case, William Ernest Henley had tuberculosis of the bone when he was just 25 years old. This poem was written on the hospital bed after the doctor told him that if they didn’t amputate his leg below the knee he’d die.

Thus, we can safely assume “Invictus” is about the speaker’s pain and uncertainty of his future. However, despite the speaker’s almost absolute darkness ahead, he remains in good spirits, hopeful, and positive.

Style: Victorian
Theme: Dark future
Tone: Hopeful
Format: 16 lines, rhyming
Rhyme scheme: ABAB-CDCD-EFEF-GHGH

Line by Line Analysis & Figurative Language

  • Invictus – Unconquered
  • Out of the night that covers me – Something unexpected is now on top of the speaker. Something that he can’t control. He can’t get out of it.
  • Black as the Pit from pole to pole – something completely dark without an ounce of light
  • I thank whatever gods may be / For my unconquerable – Thanks to whatever God or gods that exist for making the speaker’s soul relentless
  • In the fell clutch of circumstance / I have not winced nor cried aloud – I have stayed strong despite my circumstance.
  • Under the bludgeonings of chance / My head is bloody, but unbowed – His mind is puzzled and hurt by the chance of this happening, yet he is unwavering in his positivism.
  • Beyond this place of wrath and tears / Looms but the Horror of the shade – Refers to the speaker’s pain felt on Earth and that the future is scary (death).
  • And yet the menace of the years / Finds, and shall find, me unafraid – The thing which has bothered him for years (tuberculosis) has not made him scared in the past or present and won’t in the future.
  • It matters not how strait the gate, / How charged with punishments the scroll. – What ailments or problems that lie ahead don’t matter.
  • I am the master of my fate: / I am the captain of my soul. – The speaker controls his future.

Poem: “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.

Gary R. Hess

Gary was born and raised on a small farm in rural Kansas. Today, he is teaching various nationalities English in Southeast Asia. Get his newest poetry eBook here.