Sunday, March 10, 2013

Invictus, by William Ernest Henley

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"Invictus" is a short poem by the English poet William Ernest Henley (1849–1903). At the age of 13, Henley contracted tuberculosis of the bone. 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. It was amputated when he was 17. Stoicism inspired him to write this poem. Despite his disability, he survived with one foot intact and led an active life until his death at the age of 53.

This poem has been an inspiration for many modern films and songs, but you may have heard of it thanks to the film Invictus that you have been watching in Physical Education lessons: While incarcerated on Robben Island prison, Nelson Mandela recited the poem to other prisoners and was empowered by its message of self-mastery. In the film, Mandela gives the captain of the national South African rugby team the poem to inspire him to lead his team to a Rugby World Cup win, telling him how it inspired him in prison. In reality, as opposed to the movie, Mandela actually gave the captain, Francois Pineaar, a copy of The Man in the Arena passage from President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt's speech Citizenship in a Republic instead.

Try and read the poem while you listen to the actor's voice in the clip below. Then look intently at his mouth, and try and mimic his vocalization and pronunciation.

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.

(Spanish translation by Juan Carlos Villavicencio)








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