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Poem Analysis of Invictus by William Ernest Henley

"Invictus" was written by the English poet William Ernest Henley. The poem is a short Victorian, written in 1875 and published in 1888. The poem was originally untitled, but in 1900 Arthur Quiller-Couch included the poem along with the title "Invictus" in his book The Oxford Book of English Verse.

In order to completely understand the meaning of this poem, it is important to know the life of William Ernest Henley. As a young boy, Henley developed tuberculosis of the bone. At the age of 25, the tuberculosis spread to his foot. Physicians decided that in order to safe Henley's life, they must amputate his leg below the knee. While in the hospital bed, Henley wrote the poem "Invictus."

You may also wish to read how to analyze a poem.

The poem "Invictus" is made up of sixteen lines and is divided into four stanzas. The rhyme scheme is abab-cdcd-efefef-ghgh. The writing is short and contains just eight syllables to each line. By linking the poem to the author's life, it can be easily analyzed.

  1. "Out of the night that covers me," describes the troubles of his early life. He is covered "pole to pole" with something terrible. Luckily, his soul is unhindered.
  2. "In the fell clutch of circumstance" continues the story. He has high spirits, regardless of what has happened. His body may have blood stains, but he is not ashamed.
  3. The third stanza states that even though he may not know what is to come, he is unafraid and ready for life.
  4. The last stanza states that even though his future may be established due to the disease, he will continue on and control his own fate and soul with whatever time he has.

This poem is a masterpiece and is still referenced to this day. The movie titled "Invictus" refers to this very poem throughout the film. It is also read within "The Capture of the Green River Killer", and the words of "Invictus" were the last words spoken by Timothy McVeigh.


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.