Monday, December 29, 2014

Invictus by 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.

Some thoughts…

On the Poet: William Ernest Henley (1849 – 1903) was a Victorian poet and literary figure. His childhood and much of his adult years were dogged by his struggles with tuberculosis and associated complications. Notwithstanding his poor health, his larger than life personality served as inspiration for his friend, R.L. Stevenson, who modeled the character of Long John Silver (‘Treasure Island’) on Henley. Today, Henley is best remembered for ‘Invictus’.

W.E. Henley was said to be an atheist, or at least, a sceptic. Perhaps a few readers might have guessed as much from reading between the lines. It shouldn't matter, but some have objected to what they perceive as the vainglorious solipsism of this poem. Perhaps ‘whatever gods may be’ wouldn’t hold that against him; rather, applaud his valiant heart. Faith in oneself is better than none at all; and just maybe, a stepping stone to something even surer.

On this Poem: This poem was written by Henley in 1875, as he was recovering from one surgical procedure, and dreading the next that was scheduled to follow. Though originally untitled, it was later published as ‘Invictus’ – meaning ‘unconquered’ in Latin.

On a personal note: So, Readers, how was 2014 for you?

Personally, I have nothing to complain of. However, for the cup of happiness to be full to the brim, we require those we care about to be equally unscathed. We would demand of the universe that our loved ones be shielded from untoward reversals of fortune, from the waxing and waning of inconstant relationships, from illness, from hurt – from all the things that remind us of the fragility of the human condition.

 ‘Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional’ – I like the sound of that, but it seems too simplistic. When uncertainty lurks at every corner and everything that we hold dear can vanish in the wink of an eye, how do we remain the masters of our fate and captains of our soul? Yet, when we look around, the world is richly blessed with individuals who offer living proof of that quote.  They are not just undaunted; they are happy, even joyful.

When everything we hold dear vanishes in the wink of an eye…still, much will remain, for the world is full of goodness – more than can be experienced or appreciated in one lifetime.

So, to all my Readers, may the New Year bring you and yours hope, good health, good fortune, love in your heart, and peace in your home.

This year, I add an extra prayer for those very dear to me – grant us strength, grant us endurance.  And when all other resources fail, may we yet retain the fearless faith that makes our soul the unconquerable wonder that it is; and trust ourselves into the safekeeping of the infinite love and compassion that sustains this universe. 

1 comment:

C.Srinivasan said...

I may add this to your prayer for further contemplation:"During sleep we do not feel even a broken bone.And if in waking consciousness we keep a very controlled mind, three fourths of any pain we experience will likewise disappear; for there is no relation between pain and the body except through the mind. When a stranger is hurt we don't feel as much concern as we would if he were our brother. A mother watching over her suffering baby feels greater pain than she would if it were another's child. Similarly physical suffering in our own body is intensified because through identification with it, we are more in sympathy with our body than with someone else's. Whenever in misery, physical or mental, practise this spiritual consciousness." - Paramahsa Yogananda