‘The Master of my Soul’

6 Nov

Hopefully you regular readers on Another King won’t see me as a movie junkie due to my other posts about classic film lines, however I felt this one was begging to be doneas i’ve been hearing it a lot recently. My focus isn’t exactly on a film, it is on the poem, ‘Invictus’, written by Victorian writer William Ernest Henley in 1875 and this has been more recently made famous by Clint Eastwood’s production in 2009, where he captures the poem being used in South Africa as they won the 1995 Rugby World Cup against all the odds. Perhaps you’ve seen the film or heard a few lines, but never got a chance to read the whole thing, well here’s your opportunity!

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.


A poem that is filled with rich language and it’s all pretty emotional when it is used against the backdrop of a South African nation over coming apartheid and social inequality to go on and conquer some of the biggest names in world rugby, however that’s not what I wish to focus on. The last two lines have become very popular in recent months, many people have quoted them, have them scribbled down on their notepads or merely just thinking them to themselves in testing circumstances.

But when we stop to think about the implications of those last two lines, we see the utter foolishness of mankind creeping in. Psalm 14:1 states ‘The fool says in his heart, there is no God’, and the words of this poem seem to show up this flaw in man’s heart. Man thinks we’re able to control our own future, we think we’re able to go against whatever circumstances beset us, because we are the ‘captain of our souls’.

We see many modern minds telling the masses of people in this world that because there is nothing out there, nothing eternal to worry about, then why shouldn’t every man and woman be in charge of themselves? No matter what is happening, they can turn it around because of their inward pride, because of their belief in no deity and their belief in their own strenght….

Of course, those readers of the scriptures know this to be nonsense….Psalm 128:1 ‘Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways!’ Psalm 46:1 ‘God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble.’ We must acknowledge that God is the master of our fates, he alone is the only one who can be a comfort in the midst of troubles and he alone is the only one that man can find refuge in on that great and terribly judgement day that is coming. May we continue to realise our own stupidity in placing trust in our own works and turn to an increased faith in God and his saving power.

As with all poems, lots of people can have lots of various takes on them so upon reading Invictus you feel some thing sticking out at you, drop us a comment and feel free to share!



8 Responses to “‘The Master of my Soul’”

  1. Brendan November 7, 2010 at 11:10 am #

    Wondering about the line “Beyond this land of wrath and tears, looms the horror of the shade, and yet the menace of the years will find me unafraid”, I really find that verse speaks of the arrogance of the writer. As if he can tough through death the same way he can do life.

    Also thinking about

    “It does not matter how straight the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll”. I was wondering what that meant hmmmm

  2. Connor Q November 7, 2010 at 4:27 pm #

    I agree this is a very dangerous poem, fiiled with catchy, seemingly profound but ultimately false statements. That are easy to remember and hard to forget.

    As Ali stated the whole theme of the poem is self reliance. The writer is either a liar or at best deluded if he thinks that he has managed to conquer the trials of this life unaided and unaffected, lines like: “I have not winced nor cried aloud” are in themselves very dangerous. This might sound inspiring when times are good, but when the trials come and they do infact bring pain and hurt these verses have no comfort.
    All they can offer is rebuke for not being strong enough. Leading either to further darkness and depression or, an outward denial of struggle (which is presumily the situation writer is in). But as we all know ignoring a problem doesnt make it go away and while the writer may not ‘cry aloud’ we can be quite sure that INside his soul screams out in hurt as he tries to supress his emotions.

    Another disturbing theme is the idea that the writer will stand bold and face death and judgement, unafraid and unmoved:

    “For my UNCONQUERABLE soul.”/ “I have not winced nor cried aloud.” / “My head is bloody, but UNBOWED.” / “Finds and shall find me UNAFRAID.” / “It MATTERS NOT… How charged with punishments the scroll,”

    “I am the master of my fate:
    I am the captain of my soul.”

    I am reminded of the words of Paul Washer:

    “…that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
    and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,[Phillipians 2: 9-11]

    Some of you will bow out of the grace that has been given to you, and others will bow because your kneecaps will be broken by the One who rules the nations with a rod of iron.”

    Now Mr William Henley is dead, and is face to face with eternity, and if Mr Henley was not saved before he died:

    He HAS now been conquered.
    His head Is bloody and he IS bowed.
    Now he IS afraid.
    He now DOES wince and cry aloud.
    Now he knows that it really DOES matter ” How charged with punishments the scroll”.
    And he never was ‘the master of his fate’ that role belongs to “He who touches the earth and it melts, and all who dwell in it mourn” [Amos 9:5]

  3. Connor Q November 7, 2010 at 4:34 pm #

    That was a good article btw Ali, got me thinking.

  4. Daniel Ritchie November 7, 2010 at 10:02 pm #

    Like all false religions/philosophies the poem is fundamentally irrational and self-contradictory. For instance, look at these lines:

    “I thank whatever gods may be
    For my unconquerable soul.”

    By thanking “whatever gods there be” the author is acknowledging his reliance on something/someone outside of himself for his ability to perservere, which is hardly consistent with:

    “I am the master of my fate:
    I am the captain of my soul.”

    If he is the master of his fate and the captain of his soul, then why does he need to thank the “gods” for giving him the ability to endure his hardships? By so doing, he has (unwittingly) acknowledged that he is neither the master of his fate nor the captain of his soul, but a creature dependent upon God.

    Thus, since the message of this poem is not even internally coherent, its admirers should excuse the rest of us for not being swept along by it. Such nonsense is merely indicative of the irrationalism of our age; the fact that such words are popular today is further indication that we are a society under God’s judgment (Deut. 28:28). Those who will not acknowledge Christ as the master of their souls (and bodies) will learn the hard-way.

  5. Ali November 8, 2010 at 10:05 am #

    Thanks for your thoughts guys, it’s brilliant that so many different views can be shared over a relatively short poem. Thanks for reading!

  6. Brendan November 17, 2010 at 12:11 am #

    Just for fun, I decided to make an edited version.

    Out of the night that covered me,
    White as the snow from pole to pole,
    I thank the God who saved me
    For the salvation of my soul.

    In the fell clutch of my own sin
    I have winced and cried aloud
    But He came my soul to win
    And before him my head is bowed

    He came to this place of wrath and tears
    And faced the Horror of the shade,
    He confroneted our darkest fears
    And payed the price to be paid

    For me it matters not how strait the gate,
    How charged with punishments the scroll,
    He is the master of my fate:
    He is the captain of my soul.

  7. James November 18, 2010 at 11:15 am #

    I think the poem shows us something of our sin. Can we really say that we don’t find something inspirational and romantic in the poet’s “unconquerable soul” or “unbowed head”? I find that such words uncover my sin of pride.

  8. ConnorQ March 8, 2011 at 3:08 pm #

    Well yeh sure it romanticises and inspires us towards pride.
    I think I leave the last word here to Ted Donnelly:

    “[In reference to aforementioned poem] But this is no more than mindless bragging. Let the sinner pause at the gates of hell, muster all his strength and vigour, and summon up his resolution to bear what awaits him. Within half a second his courage will have melted away and he will be crying for mercy.”

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