Invictus - William Earnest Henley

“Invictus” by William Ernest Henley is a poem which, written in 1875, still echoes in the present day. Meaning ‘unconquerable’ in Latin, it is no wonder that it has inspired much greatness and much beauty and that it has withstood the test of time. In recent years the poem received negative press when American terrorist, Timothy McVeigh, used it as his final statement before his execution on June 11, 2001 leading to much wariness about its content. But to me, this only reinforces the genius of this poem. If you are a sick child, a suffering parent, a corrupted soul, this poem still radiates with hope and meaning. It is timeless; endless; flawless.
The main strength of this poem is it’s incredible universal and palpable theme of bravery, resilience and mastery of one’s own soul. The language that Henley uses to frame this theme is simple yet brilliant while the use of quatrain poetry allows for the subject matter to speak clearly and distinctly; freeing it of any unnecessary baggage and capturing the clarity and strength of his message. It is said that this poem was written as a demonstration of his resilience following the amputation of his foot due to tubercular infection as a child which is easy to believe as Henley speaks with the defiance and the conviction only someone who had suffered immense pain could possibly capture. It’s raw, it’s palpable and most importantly, it’s real. It is easy to understand why it is one of his more famous poems.
There is much ambiguity about Henley’s position in regards to spirituality which leads to conflicting opinions about the deeper meaning behind “Invictus”. The phrase “whatever gods may be” suggests that the “master” and “captain” that he speaks of could be referring to a Christian God and he quotes an excerpt from Matthew 7:14 (‘_Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it__’)_ in his final stanza which begs the question of whether he intended to carry on...