William E. Henley

William Ernest Henley was a playwright, magazine editor, poet, critic, and the list could continue.  One of his closest friends was Robert Louis Stevenson who modeled Long John Silver of Treasure Island after Henley.

1926 Book Cover

In many ways Henley was a true Victorian man.  In early childhood he developed tubercular arthritis which eventually led to the amputation of his left leg below the knee during 1865-66.  In 1873 he traveled to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh to save his right leg under the care of Joseph Lister.  His three-year stay would grant him another three decades.

It was out of this ordeal with this malady that he wrote his famous poem Invictus in 1875, even though it was untitled at the time. Invictus is Latin for unconquered.   

Henley did not allow his illness or the cruel vicissitudes of Fate to map his chosen path on the road of life.  Like Long John Silver, whatever came his way, he met it and conquered it, mastered it to help steer his ship on the circuitous river leading into the cosmic ocean. 

His short 53 years on this planet traversing the cosmos were filled with friendships, love, and hardships which would have destroyed a weaker man. Perhaps it is the struggles of living which prepare us for what lies beyond the horizon.

For we know the eastern horizon always has the sunrise.  The western horizon always has the sunset.  It is between sunrise and sunset that we live on this earth.

When we close our eyes in the sleep of death on our western horizon, perhaps it is to wait for the eastern sunrise.  For star stuff of which we are made cannot remain inert indefinitely.

G. D. Williams       © 2011

NOTE: I had read this poem in secondary school many years ago.  Recently, someone posted it on their blog-loveniki. The blog link is below.  Check out what this young blogger has to say about life.


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.

Morgan Freeman


Invictus to Harry’s Game Celtic Woman


Loveniki (thanks for posting this poem on your blog)