The poem Invictus was written by the English poet Ernest William Henley in 1875. Invictus (Latin for Unconquered) was read by Nelson Mandela during his incarceration in Robben Island recited the poem to other prisoners and was empowered by its message of self mastery.
It is such a powerful piece of poetry and I love every word of it. The last two sentences speak to me around mental health. No matter how little we feel in control of our lives, with a bit of help and support we can be the ‘master’ of our fate and the ‘captain’ of our soul.
By William Ernest Henley
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.
The poem is referenced several times in the 2009 film Invictus starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. It becomes the central inspirational gift from Mandela, played by Morgan Freeman, to Springbok rugby team captain François Pienaar, played by Matt Damon, in advance of the post-apartheid Rugby World Cup hosted in 1995 by South Africa.
Definitely a piece of writing to read every so often when you are feeling disempowered.