Invictus is a short Victorian poem written by William Ernest Henley (23rd Aug, 1849 – 11th Jul, 1903), published in 1888 in his first volume of poems Book of Verses.
Although little known, the poem was originally published without title. The name Invictus (Latin for unconquered) was added later by editor Arthur Quiller-Couch. The message of the poem is fortitude in adversity, strength, and the stiff upper lip we associate with the Victorian period.
Henley actually wrote the poem after having a leg amputated due to complications from Tuberculosis, and his entire literary reputation rests on these few lines. Throughout history the poem has inspired others in great deeds, giving the poem great historical context. Here are some of its most famous ‘outings’.
In September 1941, Winston Churchill paraphrased the last two lines of the poem in a speech to the House of Commons stating ‘We are still masters of our fate. We still are captains of our soul.’ In a reference to the terrible threat of World War II.
Nobel Peace laureate and Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi stated that the poem had inspired his father during the independence struggles.
The poem was also read by US prisoners’ of war in Japanese prisons, a fact known when James Stockdale stated that he recalled being passed the final stanza written with rat droppings on toilet paper from fellow prisoner David Hatchett.
Tomothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma bomber chose Invictus as his final statement before his execution.
The poem was also recited by the Eagle Academy during the 2016 United States Democratic Convention.
However, maybe the most well known reference to Invictus is the one referenced in the title of this peace. It’s said that Nelson Mandela recited the poem to other prisoners while incarcerated at Robben Island. The prisoners were empowered by its message of self-mastery, further inspiring an entire nation for change.
And it’s this that inspired Barrack Obama to read the poem at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service in 2013.
Below is the poem, read by Morgan Freeman from the movie ‘Invictus’ where he played Nelson Mandela in a critically acclaimed role.
Yeats used symbolism in his poetry, choosing and assembling words to give them meaning while suggesting significant abstract thought. His highly passionate poetry has inspired many fellow poets, writers, and creatives, including the lead singer of 20th century band The Cranberries, Dolores O’Riordan, who sadly passed away in January 2018. O’Riordan, a life-long Yeats fan, wrote Yeats’ Grave after she visited the place where he was buried.
O’Riordan was born and grew up in County Limerick, Ireland, and studied W.B. Yeats when she was at school. Speaking to Hot Press Magazine in 1994, Dolores expressed how her love for Yeats’ poetry felt at odds with the exam process, and vigorous analysis of the poetry.
The poem instantly became a symbol of the proud and resilient city. Its lines now adorn walls and buildings, offering snippets of hope and strength to its inhabitants. The poem, it seemed, now belonged to the city.
Its creator, Tony Walsh, has since decided to officially ‘gift’ the poem to Manchester, hoping its use will help raise money for thousands of community projects for the city. The popularity of the poem had grown to the point that big corporations were using lines from it without permission, and without any recompense for Manchester and its people.
She began signing and dating poems from 1842 and wrote a variety of romantic, devotional and children’s poems. However, she is least known for her best known works.
The poem In the Bleak Midwinter was written by Rossetti in January 1872, titled “A Christmas Carol”. In 1906 the poem was put to music by Gustav Holst, appearing in the English Hymnal and was then composed by Harold Edwin Darke in a later version now popular with choirs. Read More
When many of us think of poetry we often think of stuffy tomes and undecipherable old English but modern poetry isn’t like that at all, and to show you, we’ve put together a list of 5 poetry collections, all released in recent years and all bright, modern, relatable and engaging and by poets who are very much still alive. Read More
Every year the Royal British Legion put on displays across the land, usually incorporating the red poppy, the symbol of Remembrance and this year that display includes a very famous poem. Read More