Quite a while ago (a couple of years I am sure), while reading the Speaking Tree column in TOI, I happened to notice an excerpt from Invictus, a poem by Henley. The poem stood out in its deft and supremely confident words. When I looked up the meaning of this fascinating Latin word, the most striking definition I could gather was – “Unconquerable.” Naturally, my inevitable tenacity to get things done once I begin them (some call it mania too :P) overtook me and I “hunted” down the poem from the omnipotent internet.

On reading the poem, it really dawned on me that I, like so many of us around, have been told a lot of times about what I cannot do. All our lives, we have come across so many people who have told us we are not bright enough, not strong enough, not gentle enough, or not bold enough. Well I can certainly recall so many occasions when I have “inspired” people to tell me on my face that I have the wrong height, or the wrong weight, or the wrong body frame to play this, or be that, or be someone, anyone. Not just back then, but even in the days ahead, I am sure they would all line up to tell me NO a thousand times, a million times, a billion times, well until the NOs become absolutely meaningless.

And now, here are the words that made me stop and look at how their NOs affected me:


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 cannot brag that a single read of this poem enlightened me into believing in all my “super” powers. No, I could not manage that. Mindless remarks and rebukes still do hurt me and put me down. But I have noticed how my period of being in that “put-down” state has decreased remarkably. After a little while of moping, I am able to laugh at myself for taking such words seriously. I can claim that I do dream of the day when I can stand up tall and scream a big YES at all of them.



  1. I will come back again…for now I am going to read the poem…and also go through the explanation about it…:) by simply GOOGLE-ing the poem.

    1. Thanks wanderer. 🙂 I am certain you would find that poem striking. Do write to me about what thoughts you came across on reading that.

  2. Hi…
    I liked the poem. Somewhere it tells my story; what I was and what I am and eventually, what I’ll be!
    There was a time few years ago when my body and my spirit was suffering because I actually did not know what suffering is!
    Now I have understood to some extent the Laws of Life (as life gives ONLY on-job training :)) and what should be our attitude towards it.
    Now (at least in theory) I know whatever may happen to my body, my soul is unconquerable!


    1. Hi Satyakam. Wow, that was marvellous. I mean most of us do go through phases which are in semblance with that poem. But I am not sure how many do have the wisdom to relate it with and recall those precise phases.

      And I do agree with on-job training. Learnt it the hard way! 🙂

  3. hi

    I loved the poem… In Invictus the movie, Morgan Freeman says this poem inspired him to achieve greatness and to forgive the hatred he got for the Afrikanos, but the best part is that it is written by an Afrikano.

    All he meant was every person has something that inspires them – it might be different for you, but you must find what inspires you. yes, the meaning becomes more clear the more you endure pain, but what the poet meant, only he knows in the true sense. its like saying my pain is bigger than ure pain..or ure pain is bigger than mine. i believe everyones pain is big.


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