Mandela’s favourite poem. William Ernest Henley’s Invictus, first published in 1875, motivated and kept Mandela’s spirits up during his 27 years in prison, and he would often recite it to his fellow inmates.
William Ernest Henley (1849-1903) was an English poet who’s main claim to fame is writing this beautiful poem. Henley was diagnosed with tuberculosis and had one of his legs amputated when he was 17. In spite of this disability, Henley went on to live an active and successful life and used his experience to write Invictus when he was 26.
I won’t attempt to tell you how much of a inspiring man Mandela was, it’s been done far better by most news outlets around the world. You can visit the Nelson Mandela Foundation for all the information you might need on his life and times. My favourite Mandela quote that I’ve read a lot online recently is also his most famous – the words he spoke as the closing statement during his trial in 1964 before he was sentenced to life in prison:
“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for. But, my lord, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
About the comic: I featured the limestone quarry, where Mandela had to break rocks into gravel day after day. Over the days, months, and years of backbreaking labour, the glare from the white rock would permanently damage Mandela’s eyesight. The photograph he is looking at is of himself with his eldest son, Madiba Thembekile, who was killed in a car crash in 1969. Mandela was not allowed to attend the funeral or even find out information about the accident. I took a few liberties with the prison guard – Mandela was transferred off Robben Island in 1982 and moved to Pollsmoor prison, so it’s highly unlikely that the same guard would be with Mandela at the beginning and at the end of his imprisonment. Over the years, because of the way Mandela carried himself, he eventually gained the respect and friendship of some of his guards. One warder, James Gregory, even wrote a book about his relationship with Mandela that was turned into a movie.
Not only did Mandela endure 27 years of imprisonment with dignity, determination and strength, but he also chose to forgive the people who wronged him (for instance, after being released from prison, he invited the prosecutor who argued for his death penalty to lunch). That, in my opinion, is his most impressive accomplishment – and that’s what I wanted to highlight in the comic.
Of course, I’ve already adapted Invictus into a comic, but I figure if there’s one poem that’s worth adapting twice, then it’s the poem that kept a man motivated while being locked up for 27 years! And to be honest, I’m a bit embarrassed by the first adaptation. I know a lot of you like it, but I regret ending it with revenge and violence. This comic, and having it end with forgiveness, was my chance to ‘fix’ the first version.
I haven’t read Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom (or seen the new movie) but I’m adding it to my reading list after finding out more about this great man in the past few days.
Here’s an article by the great great nephew of William Ernest Henley about the poem and Mandela’s legacy.
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