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.
- This poem was originally published untitled, not as a stand-alone poem but as a section of a longer piece, "Life and Death (Echoes)" in a Book of Verses (1888), the section bearing the date '1875'. The title "Invictus" was added by editor Arthur Quiller-Couch when the poem was included in the Oxford Book of English Verse (1900).
- (A spoken rendition on YouTube)
- (Scene from the movie "Invictus" (2009))
- [The poem may have inspired later lines of "A Challenge" from "Quatrains" by James Benjamin Kenyon, published in An American Anthology, 1787-1900 (1901) edited by Edmund Clarence Stedman:
- Arise, O Soul, and gird thee up anew,
Though the black camel Death kneel at thy gate;
No beggar thou that thou for alms shouldst sue:
Be the proud captain still of thine own fate. ]
- Arise, O Soul, and gird thee up anew,
A Book of Verses (1888) edit
- In Hospital
- Life is (I think) a blunder and a shame.
- p. 4
- Far in the stillness a cat
Languishes loudly. A cinder
Falls, and the shadows
Lurch to the leap of the flame.
- p. 12
- From the winter’s gray despair,
From the summer’s golden languor,
Death, the lover of Life,
Frees us for ever.
- p. 24
- p. 24
- Life and Death (Echoes)
- Part XXXIX. The Spirit of Wine
- I captain an army
Of shining and generous dreams
- p. 108
- p. 108
- Part XLI. Friends . . old friends . . .
- Friends . . old friends. . .
One sees how it ends.
A woman looks
Or a man tells lies,
And the pleasant brooks
And the quiet skies,
Ruined with brawling
Enchant no more
As they did before;
And so it ends
- Friends . . old friends . . .
And what if it ends?
Shall we dare to shirk
What we live to learn?
It has done its work,
It has served its turn;
And, forgive and forget
Or canker and fret,
We can be no more
As we were before.
When it ends it ends
- Friends . . old friends. . .
So it breaks, so it ends.
There let it rest.
It has fought and won,
And is still the best
That either has done.
Each as he stands
The work of its hands,
Which shall be more
As he was before?
What is it ends
- "Life and Death (Echoes)", Part XLI. See at p.111-112 of the 1891 edition of 'A Book of Verses'. (NB This Part did not appear in the 1888 edition, but features in the 1891 edition - i.e. the editions are not consistent with one another.)
Views and Reviews (1889) edit
- Plainly Hugo was the greatest man of letters of his day. It has been given to few or none to live a life so full of effort and achievement, so rich in honour and success and fame. Born almost with the century, he was a writer at fifteen, and at his death he was writing still; so that the record of his career embraces a period of more than sixty years. There is hardly a department of art to a foremost place in which he did not prove his right. From first to last; from the time of Chateaubriand to the time of Zola, he was a leader of men; and with his departure from the scene the undivided sovereignty of literature became a thing of the past like Alexander's empire.
Poems (1898) edit
My songs were once of the sunrise:
They shouted it over the bar;
First-footing the dawns, they flourished,
And flamed with the morning star.
My songs are now of the sunset:
Their brows are touched with light,
But their feet are lost in the shadows
And wet with the dews of night.
Rhymes And Rhythms edit
- Later published in Rhymes and Rhythms and Arabian Nights' Entertainments (1909)
Those incantations of the Spring
That made the heart a centre of miracles
Grow formal, and the wonder-working bours
Arise no more — no more.
Something is dead . . .
'Tis time to creep in close about the fire
And tell grey tales of what we were, and dream
Old dreams and faded, and as we may rejoice
In the young life that round us leaps and laughs,
A fountain in the sunshine, in the pride
Of God's best gift that to us twain returns,
Dear Heart, no more — no more.
We are the Choice of the Will: God, when He gave the word
That called us into line, set in our hand a sword;
Set us a sword to wield none else could lift and draw,
And bade us forth to the sound of the trumpet of the Law.
East and west and north, wherever the battle grew,
As men to a feast we fared, the work of the Will to do.
Bent upon vast beginnings, bidding anarchy cease —
(Had we hacked it to the Pit, we had left it a place of peace!) —
Marching, building, sailing, pillar of cloud or fire,
Sons of the Will, we fought the fight of the Will, our sire.
- Who says that we shall pass, or the fame of us fade and die,
While the living stars fulfil their round in the living sky?
- Some starlit garden grey with dew,
Some chamber flushed with wine and fire,
What matters where, so I and you
Are worthy our desire?
Think on the shame of dreams for deeds,
The scandal of unnatural strife,
The slur upon immortal needs,
The treason done to life:
Arise! no more a living lie,
And with me quicken and control
Some memory that shall magnify
The universal Soul.
Time's right-hand man, the sea
Laughs as in joy
From his millions of wrinkles:
Laughs that his destiny,
Great with the greatness
Of triumphing order,
Shows as a dwarf
By the strength of his heart
And the might of his hands.
Master of masters,
O maker of heroes,
Thunder the brave,
Irresistible message: —
'Life is worth Living
Through every grain of it,
From the foundations
To the last edge
Of the cornerstone, death.'
- You played and sang a snatch of song,
A song that all-too well we knew;
But whither had flown the ancient wrong;
And was it really I and you?
O, since the end of life's to live
And pay in pence the common debt,
What should it cost us to forgive
Whose daily task is to forget?
- Dear, was it really you and I?
In truth the riddle's ill to read,
So many are the deaths we die
Before we can be dead indeed.
- Life — life — let there be life!
Better a thousand times the roaring hours
When wave and wind,
Like the Arch-Murderer in flight
From the Avenger at his heel,
Storm through the desolate fastnesses
And wild waste places of the world!
- Life — give me life until the end,
That at the very top of being,
The battle-spirit shouting in my blood,
Out of the reddest hell of the fight
I may be snatched and flung
Into the everlasting lull,
The immortal, incommunicable dream.
- What have I done for you,
England, my England?
What is there I would not do,
England, my own?
Hawthorn and Lavender (1901) edit
- Life — life — life! 'Tis the sole great thing
This side of death,
Heart on heart in the wonder of Spring!
- Love, which is lust, is the Lamp in the Tomb.
Love, which is lust, is the Call from the Gloom.
Love, which is lust, is the Main of Desire.
Love, which is lust, is the Centric Fire.
So man and woman will keep their trust,
Till the very Springs of the Sea run dust.
Yea, each with the other will lose and win,
Till the very Sides of the Grave fall in.
For the strife of Love's the abysmal strife,
And the word of Love is the Word of Life.
And they that go with the Word unsaid,
Though they seem of the living, are damned and dead.
- Into a land
Storm-wrought, a place of quakes, all thunder-scarred,
Helpless, degraded, desolate,
Peace, the White Angel, comes.
Her eyes are as a mother's. Her good hands
Are comforting, and helping; and her voice
Falls on the heart, as, after Winter, Spring
Falls on the World, and there is no more pain.
- All over the world, the nation, in a dream
Of money and love and sport, hangs at the paps
Of well-being, and so
Goes fattening, mellowing, dozing, rotting down
Into a rich deliquium of decay.
- A people, haggard with defeat,
Asks if there be a God; yet sets its teeth,
Faces calamity, and goes into the fire
Another than it was. And in wild hours
A people, roaring ripe
With victory, rises, menaces, stands renewed,
Sheds its old piddling aims,
Approves its virtue, puts behind itself
The comfortable dream, and goes,
Armoured and militant,
New-pithed, new-souled, new-visioned, up the steeps
To those great altitudes, whereat the weak
Live not. But only the strong
Have leave to strive, and suffer, and achieve.
Quotes about William Ernest Henley edit
- Of Henley the talker, at least, one portrait remains. He was the original of Stevenson's Burly the talker who would roar you down, bury his face in his hands, undergo passions of revolt and agony, letting loose a spring torrent of words. There was always a wild flood and storm of talk wherever Henley might be.
- Elizabeth Robins Pennell, Nights: Rome, Venice in the Aesthetic Eighties, London, Paris in the Fighting Nineties (1916), p. 134
- Henley's talk was animated above all by the intense and virile love of life that I was so conscious of in him personally, that reveals itself in every line he wrote, and that is what I liked best about him. He was so alive, so exhilarated with the sense of being alive. The tremendous vitality of the man, that should have found its legitimate outlet in physical activity, seemed to have gone instead into his thought and his expression of it as if the very fact that fate forced him to remain a looker-on had made him the more sensitive to the beauty, the joy, the challenge in everything life gave him to look at. He could wrest romance even out of the drear, drab hospital.
- Elizabeth Robins Pennell, Nights: Rome, Venice in the Aesthetic Eighties, London, Paris in the Fighting Nineties (1916), pp. 145-146
- It has been said of him that his presence could be felt in a room you entered blindfold; and the same, I think, has been said of other powerful constitutions condemned to much physical inaction. There is something boisterous and piratic in Burly's manner of talk which suits well enough with this impression. He will roar you down, he will bury his face in his hands, he will undergo passions of revolt and agony; and meanwhile his attitude of mind is both conciliatory and receptive.
- Robert Louis Stevenson, Memories and Portraits (1887), p. 153
- He founded a school, and has survived all his disciples. He has always thought too much about himself, which is wise; and written too much about others, which is foolish. His prose is the beautiful prose of a poet, and his poetry the beautiful poetry of a prose-writer. His personality is insistent. To converse with him is a physical no less than an intellectual recreation. He is never forgotten by his enemies, and often forgiven by his friends. He has added several new words to the language, and his style is an open secret. He has fought a good fight, and has had to face every difficulty except popularity.
- Oscar Wilde to Will Rothenstein (14 August 1897), quoted in The Letters of Oscar Wilde, ed. Rupert Hart-Davis (1962), p. 631
- He was most human—human, I used to say, like one of Shakespeare's characters—and yet pressed and pummelled, as it were, into a single attitude, almost into a gesture and a speech, as by some overwhelming situation. I disagreed with him about everything, but I admired him beyond words.
- William Butler Yeats, Four Years (1921), p. 10
- He terrified us also, and certainly I did not dare, and I think none of us dared, to speak our admiration for book or picture he condemned, but he made us feel always our importance, and no man among us could do good work, or show the promise of it, and lack his praise.
- William Butler Yeats, Four Years (1921), p. 14