In honor of Father’s day and my wonderful dad, I’d like to publish one of his favorite poems (and, as inherited, now one of my favorites) below, one which he still keeps at his desk. William Ernest Henley (1849-1903) wrote the well-known verses, and they are a powerful harbor where one can reconnect with the steel in their soul when the difficulties of life seem insurmountable.
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.
As a young man who had survived an impoverished childhood, Henley contracted tuberculosis of the bone. He later underwent a series of painful surgeries, first to amputate one leg below the knee and then to salvage the remaining foot. He wrote “Invictus” (then untitled) in 1888, while in hospital. Henley went on to live an active life until his death at age 53. (Wikipedia)
The memory of Henley (a descendant of Joseph Wharton) and his life is invested in world literature and film far more deeply that I had first suspected. Robert Louis Stevenson reported that his character of Long John Silver from Treasure Island was inspired by his real-life friend, Henley. J.M. Barrie immortalized Henley’s sickly daughter, Margaret, as Wendy in Peter Pan. In the film Casablanca, Captain Renault (Claude Rains) quotes the last two lines of “Invictus” to Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), when describing his power over the town.