Invictus is a Latin word meaning Unconquered (Invictive (adj) undefeatable).
The word has remained in current usage because of William Ernest Henley’s poem of the same name. Since a thing of beauty is a joy forever, here it is for you to experience its magic again:
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.
~ William Ernest Henley
I’ve had my share of adversities; more than my share, I fondly like to imagine sometimes. No matter how deep a despair I have fallen in though, this poem has always managed to pull me back from the brink of the abyss.
Henley suffered from TB of the bones. Invictus was written in 1875 when Henley was twenty- six years old. This passionate and defiant poem was written as a demonstration of his resilience following the amputation of his foot due to tubercular infection. When he writes, my head is bloody, but unbowed, you cannot but bow your head in respect for the indomitable spirit of the man.
Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.
~ Mahatma Gandhi
Who doesn’t remember the energetic, boisterous and charming (though chilling) character called Long John Silver in R L Stevenson’s Treasure Island? That character was modeled on Henley, a close friend of Stevenson’s. In a letter to Henley after the publication of Treasure Island, Stevenson wrote, “I will now make a confession: It was the sight of your maimed strength and masterfulness that begot Long John Silver … the idea of the maimed man, ruling and dreaded by the sound, was entirely taken from you.”
This poem is not just a strident battle cry. Its significance is not only in the fact that it makes you throw your head up in rebellious defiance. Of far grater significance is the fact that a poem written almost two hundred years ago by a man battling a debilitating personal crisis; written perhaps as a command to himself forbidding him to fall into despair and be a victim, inspired- and will continue to inspire- many generations to come.
We need the iron qualities that go with true manhood. We need the positive virtues of resolution, of courage, of indomitable will, of power to do without shrinking the rough work that must always be done.
~ Theodore Roosevelt
It is doubtful if Henley could have imagined the deep, enduring success his cry of rebellion would enjoy for centuries to come. He surely could not have thought that his name would be immortalized because of this one poem. He couldn’t have imagined that his voice would travel across time and bring tears to the eyes of his readers. His impact on future generations was not his purpose in writing those words. He merely put on paper the words that erupted from deep within him. He was only obeying the voice of his soul.
When you obey the voice of your soul as you travel to your North Star, you too will create magic and resonance by the work you do in putting one foot in front of another. To you, that work might be ordinary; to you it may seem as if you are constantly overwhelmed. You may seem inadequate to yourself; you might feel as if you will never be able to get your act together. Let the future evaluate the struggle which you record in the work you do. Let it speak of your invictive spirit.
You are Invictus, the unconquered!
It is for us to pray not for tasks equal to our powers, but for powers equal to our tasks, to go forward with a great desire forever beating at the door of our hearts as we travel toward our distant goal.
~ Helen Keller