web analytics

«

»

Mar 18 2013

Invictus, captain of my soul?

I first came across the poem Invictus by William Ernest Hensley several years ago on an Internet forum I used to hang out on.  An avowed atheist who posted there would occasionally sign his posts off with it.  If I had encountered the poem  when I was an atheist, I would have loved it.  As a Christian, however, I found it offensive.

Oprah Winfrey, Nelson Mandela and many others have championed “Invictus” as a tribute to the freedom, resiliency and invincibility of the human soul.  Oprah has stated that it was the first poem she memorized.  Nelson Mandela scribbled it from memory on the wall of his prison cell when a political prisoner.  He later said that reading it was what allowed him to survive his incarceration.

By all accounts, William Ernest Hensley led a painful and difficult life.  He contracted tuberculosis in his leg bones that required amputation of one of his legs, quite possibly without the benefit of anesthesia.  He then required multiple painful surgeries on his remaining foot in order to save the other leg.  He wrote “Invictus” while he was in the hospital recovering from these surgeries.

 

Invictus

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

 

“Invictus” is widely regarded as superb literature and Hensley’s finest work.  While I am certainly able to appreciate its style and vivid imagery, it is the poem’s dismissive and defiant attitude towards God that would offend me.  Reading the poem today no longer has that effect.  The emotion it produces today is sadness more than anything else. I could respond to the poem with my own thoughts, but some verses from the Bible would do a much better job.

“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.”

Job 33:28 ​​​​​​​​He has redeemed my soul from going down into the pit, ​​​​​​​and my life shall look upon the light.’ ​​​

Isa 45:22 ​​​​​​​​“Turn to me and be saved, ​​​​​​​all the ends of the earth! ​​​​​​​For I am God, and there is no other. ​​​

 

”In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Matt 11:28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Matt 11:29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Matt 11:30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

 

”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.”

Prov 14:27 ​​​​​​​​The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, ​​​​​​​that one may turn away from the snares of death. ​​​

Rev 21:4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

 

“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.”

Ezek 18:4 Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.

Rom 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

 

Reading “Invictus” today  saddens me because no matter how painful William Ernest Hensley’s life was while he was on earth, if he did not place his faith in Jesus, his earthly suffering pales in comparison with the pain and suffering of spending an eternity in hell.

According to the Bible, our eternal destiny is decided on “how charged with punishments the scroll”.  All men are sinners, and each and every one of us have pages and pages of charges on our scroll, both non-believers and Christians.

The difference between the non-believer and Christian is that the charges on a Christian’s scroll are not seen by God because they are covered over with blood.  They are covered over with the blood of Jesus Christ, who died on the cross as payment for sin to all who believe.  It’s a sad and tragic thing to forfeit our eternity in exchange for being the “captain”  of our souls for the short time we live on earth.

John 6:47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.

 

Photo by James E. Buttersworth [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Share

4 comments

Skip to comment form

  1. amberdover

    Love the last part about our scroll being covered with the blood. Praise Jesus!

    1. Ed

      Hi amberdover, and thank you for your comment and encouragement!

      After I wrote the Invictus post, I was looking on the Internet for
      some more background on the poem and ran into something wonderful.

      There was a young lady in the early 1900′s who had been an ardent admirer
      of Hensley’s humanistic worldview until she became a Christian.
      She wrote the following poem in response to Invictus.

      My Captain

      Out of the light that dazzles me,
      Bright as the sun from pole to pole
      I thank the God I know to be
      For Christ is the conqueror of my soul

      Since His the sway of circumstance
      I would not wince nor cry aloud
      Under the rule which men call chance
      My head with joy is humbly bowed

      Beyond this place of sin and tears
      That life with Him! And His the aid,
      Despite the menace of the years,
      Keep, and shall keep me, unafraid

      I have no fear, though strait the gate,
      He cleared my punishment from the scroll
      Christ is the master of my fate
      Christ is the master of my soul

      By Dorothea Day

      1. amberdover

        Oh I love that!

  2. Cody

    Spent nearly 2 decades believeing that god was the captain of my soul to no avail. YOU must guide your own ship in concert with the universe if you’re ever gonna really live.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: