William Ernest Henley Vanity Fair 26 November 1892
|Author||William Ernest Henley|
|Publisher||Book of Verses|
|Media type||Print (periodical)|
"Invictus" is a short Victorian poem by the English poet William Ernest Henley (1849–1903). It was first published in 1875 in a book called Book of Verses, where it was number four in several poems called Life and Death (Echoes). It originally had no title. Early printings contained only the dedication To R. T. H. B.—a reference to Robert Thomas Hamilton Bruce (1846–1899), a successful Scottish flour merchant and baker who was also a literary patron. The title "Invictus" (Latin for "unconquered") was added by editor Arthur Quiller-Couch when the poem was included in The Oxford Book of English Verse .
At the age of 12, Henley contracted tuberculosis of the bone. A few years later, the disease progressed to his foot, and physicians announced that the only way to save his life was to amputate directly below the knee. It was amputated when he was 17. Despite his disability, he survived with one foot intact and led an active life until his death at the age of 53.
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.
- In the 1942 film Casablanca, Captain Renault, an official played by Claude Rains recites the last two lines of the poem when talking to Rick Blaine, played by Humphrey Bogart, referring to his power in Casablanca.
- In the 1945 film Kings Row, Parris Mitchell, a psychiatrist played by Robert Cummings, recites the first two stanzas of "Invictus" to his friend Drake McHugh, played by Ronald Reagan, before revealing to Drake that his legs were unnecessarily amputated by a cruel doctor.
- Franklin D. Roosevelt mentions that this is one of his favorite poems in the 1958 play Sunrise at Campobello (Act 2, Scene 2). Later, in the same scene, his friend and advisor, Louis Howe, reads the entire poem aloud as a tribute to Roosevelt.
- The fourth stanza was quoted by Lachesis to Zane in Piers Anthony's novel On a Pale Horse, the first of his Incarnations of Immortality series.
- In a Union Bank of Switzerland advertisement Alan Bates recites the poem.
- While incarcerated on Robben Island prison, Nelson Mandela recited the poem to other prisoners and was empowered by its message of self-mastery. In the movie Invictus, Mandela gives the captain of the national South African rugby team the poem to inspire him to lead his team to a Rugby World Cup win, telling him how it inspired him in prison. In reality, as opposed to the movie, Mandela gave the captain, Francois Pienaar, a copy of the "The Man in the Arena" passage from President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt's speech Citizenship in a Republic instead.
- The poem was used as the title of one of the final episodes of the 1987-1989 television series Beauty and the Beast.
- The poem was used in a voice-over by Lucas Scott in the hit television series One Tree Hill.
- The American Heavy Metal band Virgin Steele take influence from the poem for their 1998 release Invictus. In the song of the same name, many of the lyrics take influence from the poem.
- The Greek black-metal band Necromantia used the entire poem lyrics in their song "Invictus" in their album IV: Malice released in 2000.
- Canadian poet and singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen recited the poem as an introduction to his own song "The Darkness", during a couple of shows on his 2010 world tour, most notably at his State Kremlin Palace show on 7 October.
- The last stanza of the poem was used by Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) to inspire Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) in the 30 Rock episode "Everything Sunny All the Time Always".
- Novelist Jeffrey Archer quoted the poem in the first volume of his A Prison Diary series 'Hell' which recounted his time inside HMP Belmarsh.
- The line "bloody, but unbowed" was the Daily Mirror's headline the day after the 7 July 2005 London bombings.
- The Burmese opposition leader and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi stated, "This poem had inspired my father, Aung San, and his contemporaries during the independent struggle, as it also seemed to have inspired freedom fighters in other places at other times."
- The Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh quoted the poem in its entirety as his final (written) statement.
- In the 2012 game Mass Effect 3 the second stanza of the poem is cited by one of the main characters: Ashley Williams, lieutenant-commander of the Alliance
- Tennis player Andre Agassi quoted the poem in his autobiography, Open.
- In a Lost in Space episode, Dr. Smith paraphrases the poem in the line "each man is the master of his fate, the captain of his soul".
- The Japanese visual novel Robotics;Notes uses the last two lines in this poem in the tagline for the game.
- The Korean Manhwa Noblesse uses the last two lines as the motto for Ye Ran High School.
- Fitness guru Jack Lalanne cited the poem as an inspiration in his life. Jack Lalanne battled illness as a young man in his teens and drew strength from Invictus. During an episode from his daily fitness program The Jack LaLanne Show, aired in the 1950s, he quotes lines from the poem.
- The poem is also recited and memorized by most black Greek letter organizations (BGLOs), during their new member presentation show known as the probate. Initiates are usually required to study this poem during their pledging process.
- The second verse of the poem was printed on cans of Relentless Inferno, an energy drink marketed in the UK by the Coca-Cola company.
- The poem is also recited within an audio commentary created to accompany street artist Banksy's October 25, 2013 art installment featuring Death riding a bumper car. 
- Henley, William Ernest (1888). A book of verses. London: D. Nutt. OCLC 13897970.
- For example in Henley, William Ernest (1891). A book of verses (3rd ed.). New York: Scribner & Welford. OCLC 1912116.
- "English professor Marion Hoctor: The meaning of 'Invictus'". CNN. 2001-06-11. Retrieved 2009-06-21.
- Quiller-Couch, Arthur Thomas (ed.) (1902). The Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250–1900 (1st (6th impression) ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 1019. OCLC 3737413.
- Wilson, A.N. (2001-06-11). "World of books". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2009-12-14.
- Flora, Joseph (1970). William Ernest Henley. Twayne Publishers, Inc. p. 15.
- University of California Press http://www.jstor.org.www2.lib.ku.edu:2048/stable/3817033?seq=1
- Daniels, Eddie (1998) There and back: Robben Island, 1964-1979. p.244. Mayibuye Books, 1998
- Boehmer, Elleke (2008). "Nelson Mandela: a very short introduction". Oxford University Press. "'Invictus', taken on its own, Mandela clearly found his Victorian ethic of self-mastery"
- Dominic Sandbrook (30 January 2010). "British leaders: they're not what they were". The Daily Telegraph (UK).
- leonardcohenforum.com report
- Cohen's Moscow recitation on YouTube
- "Bloodied but unbowed" mirror.co.uk
- Aung San Suu Kyi in BBC Reith Lecture, 2011-06-28
- Rita Cosby (2001-06-12). "Timothy McVeigh Put to Death for Oklahoma City Bombings". FOX News. Retrieved 2008-04-15.
- Works related to Invictus at Wikisource