“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.”
– Invictus (William Ernest Henley)
When first introduced to this poem, I did not understand it fully nor did it appeal to me. It was my father’s favorite poem, so I kept revisiting it over the years. My father, to me as a child, seemed to be a supremely confident man, but it was very revealing that this, of all poems was his favorite.
How odd that now, I can comprehend all its words and infer a meaning that resonates within. It must be the lessons of the years. It may even be that there is a new humility that comes with age, leaving behind the arrogance of youth.
Having grown up in sheltered and wealthy circumstances, I was shielded from the cruelty of the world. I can say that my soul is in a supremely better place now because of the great trials and testings that followed. Despite my abusive first marriage, an ugly divorce, a decade of financial uncertainty, bad health and the cruel prodding of some people who opportunistically bullied me in my time of difficulty, my soul prevailed. Yes it was the bludgeonings of chance. It has taken 30 years of great testing and darkness, a lifetime even – to emerge into the light.
Here’s another secret. I did not seek to inflate my station in life or education or background at these points. Because it is far easier to see people’s true colors when they face the weak and helpless. Because when they are confronted with someone vulnerable, they can show their kindest, most beautifully compassionate and loving natures. Like mortal angels. Or they can show their ugliest, vainest, cruelest and most unkind sides. Apathy to me was just a sign of someone on a spiritual journey of their own, a little lost. I was amazed how sloppy people could be when they thought no one who matters is watching. Even more inspiring is to see people showing their purest, most spiritual sides when no one is watching. As I see it, the two extreme classes of people had already made choices about their soul journeys.
While I cannot say that I have not winced nor cried aloud, it seems that a bloody but unbowed head is mine to declare. Your head should be unbowed if you seek to do what is right in every instance. There will be those who will oppose you and seek to beat you into submission but taking the moral path is so important. Being afraid is natural and doesn’t detract from the courage you show in taking your soul journey. And some people will actually fear you when you emerge through the fire, with dignity.
You see, it has always been about my soul. I naively entered law school expecting it to be schooling on principles of justice and on all that was right and fair. My mission from a very young age was to do that which was good for my soul. I am proud of making the choice to stand up to matters that affected my soul.
I have been afraid so many times but it is my belief that this poem talks of staying the course despite your fears. I have learned to stand up to what I perceived was morally wrong and unfair. And you can do it quietly and in your own unique way.
You hold your destiny in your hands with the choices you make and many will point you to the more popular, maybe even less honest ways. Yet, you are the master of your fate and captain of your soul. You need to choose the moral, compassionate, loving path…the path that leads to truth and justice. It is good for you and your soul.