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.
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
Based in Minnesota, the Button Poetry organisation is dedicated to bringing us performance poetry from a host of talented poets. Some of the poets tug at your heart, while others make you laugh at their clever commentary and witty prose. Even if you are not a fan of poetry, performance poetry is more accessible, inclusive, and exciting than you would imagine.
Content warning: Strong language and intense themes.
Owen was killed in action on 4th November 1918 during the crossing of the Sambre-Oise Canal exactly one week (almost to the hour) before the signing of the Armistice which ended the war. Because of his death, much of his work was published posthumously. Read More
Her love for bees began with her father, Otto Plath, who was a bumble bee expert. Otto Plath’s book Bumblebees and Their Ways was published in 1934 and is still used today. Plath’s father grew up in Germany where he gained the nickname Beinen-Konig, meaning King of the Bees. Boston University recognised his knowledge and passion, giving him a place on their academic staff as the Professor of Entomology.
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