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.
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. Read More
Born in New Jersey, Parker had an unhappy childhood, leading to a long and unhappy relationship with her own father. She first became well known in 1918 when she stepped in for P. G Wodehouse writing theatre criticism for Vanity Fair. While her caustic wit was popular with readers, she was eventually terminated after her criticisms began to offend powerful theatre producers. Read More
Larkin’s poetry has been described as reflective and with ironic understatement. His lyrical works are full of a quiet discontent that manages to give the reader a sense of ordinary life, with his recurring themes and subjects, such as death and fatalism.
The event will be called Contains Strong Language and will take place across four days, starting on National Poetry Day on 28th September. The festival will celebrate the power of poetry and words in all forms, encompassing both old and new works. Read More
Plath had used carbon paper with her typewriter, as was often the way, while writing her poetry and recording her thoughts. Some of these scraps of carbon paper were discovered in the back of an old notebook, her words still etched on the dark ink.
Nayyirah is known as one of the most famous and loved poets on Instagram with over 250,000 followers reading her art every day.
Her poetry surrounds issues of identity and race, love, emotion, and feminism. Her brevity of language and use of punctuation and lowercase letters, encourages the reader to examine the depth of her meaning. It captivates each reader through beauty, pain, and spirit.
I hope you enjoy these selected poems, and are inspired to explore her work further.