Invictus

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-by Matt Leedham

It’s a good morning for some hardcore poetry.

Hardcore poetry, you ask? That’s quite the oxymoron, you may be saying to yourself.

Well, let’s first take a poem by William Ernest Henley, written in 1875 from his hospital bed in England:

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.

You may be familiar with some parts of this of this poem, particularly the end, as it has been featured in both the 1942 film Casablanca, and the 2009 film Invictus. The poem, written by William Ernest Henley, did not actually have a name for many years until 12 years after it was first published. It was included in a book of poems and given the title “Invictus.” The word ‘invictus’ is Latin for ‘unconquerable,’ in which you can clearly see the root of words like victory and victorious.

In 2011, this style of poem may not be as popular as it was in the late 19th/early 20th century, particularly in England. Indifference to pain and suffering and demonstrating stoicism were the order of the day, and so this poem resonated with the British people.

What I find today is that we may need this kind of slap in the face every once in awhile. Maybe we’re getting a little soft. There’s a time to talk things out and commiserate about our pain and suffering, and there are times to plow through and be defiant in the face of it!

Ultimately, this poem is not about stoicism, but rather about self-mastery. It professes that no matter the situation, no matter the circumstance, no matter the real or perceived pain, YOU are in control. And you will always be in control.

I will end with a very short, but extremely hardcore poem, by D.H. Lawrence. It’s also about self-mastery. You may be familiar with the poem for a number of reasons, but it was also featured in a major motion picture, 1997’s GI Jane, and has been previously featured in our blog or on our Facebook page.

Self Pity

I never saw a wild thing
sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself.

You are in control. You are in control of how today will turn out. You are in control of how you interact with the world.

You are unconquerable.

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