William Ernest Henley is best remembered for his short poem ‘Invictus’.
Henley was diagnosed with tuberculosis when he was only 12 years-old. Ultimately, he needed a below knee amputation of the left lower limb to treat the disease invading his bones (see Operation). He was on the verge of losing his right leg until he became a patient of the immortal surgeon Joseph Lister. He wrote ‘Invictus’ from his hospital bed in 1875. After 3 years in hospital, although not cured, he went on to lead a productive life as a poet, literary critic and newspaper editor.
Henley’s daughter Margaret was also a sickly child and was only 5 years-old when she died. Yet in her short life she became the inspiration for the character ‘Wendy’ in J. M. Barrie’s classic children’s story ‘Peter Pan’. When Henley died in 1903, aged 53 years, he was buried in the same churchyard as his little daughter.
No matter the nature of your afflictions, Henley’s poem will cover you in a shroud of invincibility and infuse you with an unconquerable spirit…
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,William Ernest Henry (1875)
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.