Invictus

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.

2 Responses to “Invictus”

  1. There are two ways in which one can be such a master:
    (i) the cause, or,
    (ii) the owner.

    The former, however, is simply unattainable, for no one is the cause of all of that which happens. Too much is a result of chance and the power that other people have over you, as well as things about our own physiology we cannot possibly overcome, and that remind us that of fragile our humanity is. (I quote from a recent read that was really rather thought provoking: “A brain injury has a way of exposing humanity at its most vulnerable, fragile, and determined.” Head Cases: Stories of Brain Injury and Its Aftermath, which I recommend – it’s not technical at all, written for the general public, so it’s a quick read. (I hope that link html came out okay, since there’s no way to preview a comment beforehand, nor to edit one.))

    But the latter way in which one can be a master certainly IS attainable. To be the owner of one’s self and one’s life is to accept it all as one’s own, to say of one’s self and one’s life, “It is mine“, that is, to take the responsibility for all of it, even when one isn’t the cause. (If it seems strange to take responsibility for that which one didn’t cause, then it requires a change in attitude and perspective with respect to what it means to bear responsibility for something.) In a way, I think it involves a change of perspective in what it means for something to be mine.

    I know what I think, but ultimately, I would like to know what you think about all of this.

    It reminds of one of the most oft-quoted passages from Nietzsche:

    The greatest weight.– What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: “This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sign and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all the same succession and sequence–even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!”
    Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus?… Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal? (The Gay Science, 341)

  2. I wonder, is Sisyphus informing this piece from Nietzsche?

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