Invictus, by William Ernest Henley: Never say die!

If you and I think we have problems, we should consider the case of English poet William Ernest Henley (1849–1903).

Wikipedia says Henley became a victim of tuberculosis of the bone at age 12. A few years later, the disease progressed to his foot, and physicians announced that the only way to save his life was to amputate directly below the knee. But he persevered. In 1867, he passed the Oxford local examination as a senior student, and led an active and productive life till he died aged 53. (According to Robert Louis Stevenson’s letters, the idea for the character of Long John Silver was inspired by his real-life friend Henley.)

In 1875, when Henley was 26 years old, he wrote a poem from a hospital bed. It originally bore no title, and wasn’t published until 1888. It was Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch who named it “Invictus” (Latin for “unconquered”) when he included the poem in The Oxford Book Of English Verse (1900).

So here is Henley’s words of resolve and courage, speaking to us across the gulf of time:

Invictus is also the title of a remarkable 2009 film directed by Clint Eastwood, starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. The film is a look at the life of Nelson Mandela after the fall of apartheid in South Africa, during his term as president, when he campaigned to host the 1995 Rugby World Cup event as an opportunity to unite his countrymen. The title comes from the fact that Mandela had the poem written on a scrap of paper on his prison cell while he was incarcerated.

And here’s an image that echoes the same fighting spirit…

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