Invictus Analysis

An Analysis of Invictus by William Ernest Henley

‘Invictus’ by William Ernest Henley is a short poem at only 16 lines long. It has a rhyme scheme of abab-cdcd-efefef-ghgh and a consistent 8 syllables per line. Invictus is a very inspiring poem to read, it subtly outlines Henley’s struggles but also his amazing resilience and will to accomplish his goals.

He opens the poem by saying “Out of the night that covers me,” This, with context is a powerful allusion to him having tuberculosis at the time of writing the poem (not a curable disease during his lifetime), him coming out of the night is a metaphor for his recovery from the disease. The proceeding lines in the stanza indirectly give the reader a feeling that the speaker is somewhat desperate thanking “whatever gods may be”(3). Beginning the second stanza Henley writes “In the fell clutch of circumstance/ I have not winced nor cried aloud.” Again alluding to his tuberculosis but this time exclaiming his resilience indicating a shift from desperation in the first stanza. A tone of resilience finishes off the stave when he says “My head is bloody, but unbowed.”(8) This line produces vivid imagery in the readers head making Henley resemble a worrier in the minds eye.

The third stanza shifts again and has a more pessimistic tone. With words like wrath, tears, looms and horror the poem definitely has a darker tone similar to the first stanza. However similar to the second stanza, it comes back to a stronger and more courageous tone. The fourth and final stanza starts with the lines, “It matters not how strait the gate,/How charged with punishments the scroll,”(12). These two lines are compelling metaphors for Henley not being concerned about his past. Henley wraps up the poem with “I am the master of my fate,/I am the captain of my soul.”(14). Two more, much less abstract metaphors in which he discloses how he wishes to live his life the way he wants to live for the time he has left.