Poem Analysis: “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley
Why is the narrator thankful for his “unconquerable soul?”
“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.” (Henley 1). In this first stanza, Henley speaks about the death, and how he thanks whatever force there is in the world for giving him enough strength to be able to withstand the evils he has experienced in his life. He is thankful because, despite the circumstances surrounding his life, he has always been able to emerge victorious and unconquerable.
In the second stanza, the poet writes about “circumstance” and “chance.” Why are these two ideas so important?
“Under the bludgeonings of chance / My head is bloody but unbowed.” (Henley 2). This passage tells us more about Henley. Specifically about his relation with religion. As the second stanza shows us, he has never surrendered, despite being under extreme duress, he has never winced. Even when destiny hit him, he remained still. However, the subtext relates to the power of fate over men. He never speaks about God. Instead, he talks about chance and circumstances as if life was not marked by destiny, but it is made by a series of incidents that good or bad, make us who we are.
What is the “menace of the years” that the narrator is not afraid of?
“And yet the menace of the years / Finds and shall find me unafraid.” (Henley 3). This is the clearest line of the poem as it directly challenges death and calls it by a recognizable name. He does not falter when confronted by death, as he considers himself well-prepared to face his fate as unbowed as he has lived. Without fear for he who has lived well, shall not fear death.
What is the overall message (theme) that the author is trying to leave you with?
The message behind “Invictus” is primarily motivational. The poet tries to instill his bravery into the readers, urging them to take the reins of their lives despite the manipulations of fate. If he was capable of surviving the circumstances that surrounded him, everybody can. Moreover, he tries to fight the fear of death, considering it part of life and not something humans must be afraid of.
Henley, W.E. “Invictus.” Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation. Web. 15 Nov. 2015. <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/182194>.