by William Ernest Henley
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 (August 23, 1849 – July 11, 1903) was a British poet, critic and editor.
Henley was born at Gloucester and educated at the Crypt Grammar School. The school was a poor relation of the Cathedral School, and Henley indicated its shortcomings in his article (Pall Mall Magazine, Nov. 1900) on T. E. Brown the poet, who was headmaster there for a brief period. Brown’s appointment was a stroke of luck for Henley, for whom it represented a first acquaintance with a man of genius. “He was singularly kind to me at a moment when I needed kindness even more than I needed encouragement.” Brown did him the essential service of lending him books. Henley was no classical scholar, but his knowledge and love of literature were vital.
After suffering tuberculosis as a boy, he found himself, in 1874, aged twenty-five, an inmate of the hospital at Edinburgh. From there he sent to the Cornhill Magazine poems in irregular rhythms, describing with poignant force his experiences in hospital. Leslie Stephen, then editor, visited his contributor in hospital and took Robert Louis Stevenson, another recruit of the Cornhill, with him. The meeting between Stevenson and Henley, and the friendship of which it was the beginning, form one of the best-known episodes in English literature (see Stevenson’s letter to Mrs Sitwell, Jan. 1875, and Henley’s poems “An Apparition” and “Envoy to Charles Baxter”). Stevenson took Henley as the model for his character Long John Silver in the book Treasure Island. Henley’s poem Invictus, an evocation of Victorian stoicism, was first published in 1875.
- ^ in a letter to Henley, dated May 1883, Stevenson writes: “I will now make a confession. It was the sight of your maimed strength and masterfulness that begot John Silver in TREASURE ISLAND. Of course, he is not in any other quality or feature the least like you; but the idea of the maimed man, ruling and dreaded by the sound, was entirely taken from you.”