Manvotional: “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley

by Brett & Kate McKay on October 5, 2008 · 43 comments

in A Man's Life, Manvotionals

We all face challenges in our lives. What separates men of character from spineless wieners is the way they face those challenges. In the poem “Invictus,” British poet William Ernest Henley describes how a man should respond to challenges. “Invictus” is Latin for “unconquerable.” Every man should have an unconquerable spirit. When life kicks you in the gut, get back up and kick life’s butt.

The poet himself had the unconquerable spirit which he wrote about. When he was 12, Henley developed tuberculous in the bone. He had to have his leg amputated to the knee and doctors told him he would have to have the other one amputated if he were to survive. Henley told the docs that they were full of hogwash and let them amputate just one leg. He ended up keeping the other. He led an active life with one leg and had a successful career as a poet and literary critic. Henley was truly the captain of his soul.

“Invictus” 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.

{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Shaun van Huyssteen October 5, 2008 at 10:45 am

To put all my thoughts into one word would most likely be…insperational. Sorry for the spelling I am still in school :P.

2 Armstrong October 5, 2008 at 11:03 am

This is also the motto of the Scottish clan ‘Armstrong’. My brothers and I all have tattoos with “Invictus Maneo” in them.

3 Rhys October 5, 2008 at 11:54 am




I shall print this, memorise it, and keep it with me forever.

Thank you.

4 SaintJer October 5, 2008 at 1:04 pm

A monumental bit of literary motivation and one that should be keep in a motivational book. I keep one and I suggest that others do the same. Something about flipping through pages rather than clicking through bookmarks.

5 Jake October 5, 2008 at 2:09 pm

One of my favorite poems of all time. I had to memorize it for one of my high school lit classes and it’s still with me.

6 Chase October 5, 2008 at 2:34 pm

Short and powerful. I think this may be favorite entry yet. Thanks.

7 Brett October 5, 2008 at 3:13 pm

I’m glad to see you all have enjoyed the poem. It’s definitely powerful.

8 PVW October 5, 2008 at 6:09 pm

You are from Oklahoma I gather, you know this was Timothy McVeigh’s final words?

9 SaintJer October 5, 2008 at 6:12 pm

@PVW – I would hope that these words would ring true to the human soul beyond the tarnish that a single person placed upon them by their choice of ‘final words’.

10 PVW October 5, 2008 at 7:13 pm

Oh i still love the poem. I just wanted to know if he knew or not!

11 Brett October 5, 2008 at 7:28 pm

@PVW -
I didn’t know that.

12 The Baltimore Babe October 6, 2008 at 5:05 am

Exactly what I need this morning.

13 Robert October 6, 2008 at 6:05 am

I’ve got to admit, every time I see “Invictus” I think of Oklahoma City because this was Timmy McVeigh’s final statement. I remember seeing that in the news years ago, and always stuck in my mind. The coward couldn’t even write his own final words.

14 Ryan October 6, 2008 at 8:24 am

great poem, I actually just read this for the first time last night while reading the Dangerous Book for Boys.

15 PVW October 6, 2008 at 4:16 pm


See I knew I wasn’t alone.

16 Jonathan October 7, 2008 at 7:07 am

What is sad is that this poem was Timothy McVeigh’s last written words after his trial.

17 Jonathan October 7, 2008 at 7:08 am

hey look at that, its probably good to read all the comments before you repeat what someone else Just said. Ha

18 Mr. Jones October 7, 2008 at 10:15 am

(McVeigh) “The coward couldn’t even write his own final words.”

It reminds me of John Wilkes Booth. JWB was desperate to be a nationalist hero who was striking against tyranny. However, as JWB died, he muttered “…useless….useless…” because he realized his murderous actions were for naught, and the public was refusing to go along with him.

Which actually sets him apart from McVeigh, because he realized his personal mythology was all an illusion during his final days. McVeigh never achieved such insight, and died within the confines of his tiny head, and his tiny soul.

19 zaken October 7, 2008 at 10:22 pm

A real man who was also a good Christian wrote this answer to Henley’s poem about a hundred years ago:

The Soul’s Captain

An Answer to “Invictus”

Art thou in truth?
Then what of him who bought thee with his blood?
Who plunged into devouring seas
And snatched thee from the flood?

Who bore for all our fallen race
What none but him could bear-
The God who died that man might live
And endless glory share?

Of what avail thy vaunted strength
Apart from his vast might?
Pray that his light may pierce the gloom
That thou mayest see aright.

Men are as bubbles on the wave,
As leaves upon the tree,
Thou, captain of thy soul! Forsooth,
Who gave that place to thee?

Free will is thine-free agency,
To wield for right or wrong;
But thou must answer unto him
To whom all souls belong.

Bend to the dust that “head unbowed,”
Small part of life’s great whole,
And see in him and him alone,
The captain of thy soul.

Orson F. Whitney

20 zlindsey October 9, 2008 at 8:20 am

I first read this poem when I was in 8th grade. It has stuck with me ever since.

21 Jen Baker October 14, 2008 at 6:30 pm

One of my all time favorite poems. Great to see it still rings true. Thanks!

22 Brian Waala October 15, 2008 at 3:10 pm

@Shaun van Huyssteen – Take life like a man don’t be a spineless wiener

23 tomdawg November 3, 2008 at 10:43 am

I am a Christian Man, strong as hell, hard as a rock. I love being a man, and thank my God every day that He made me one. No offense to women, but what man would want to walk around with a pussy, except perhaps a fag?
There is definitely a strong sense of defiant manliness captured by “Invictus”. I so admired the poem that I used the word Invictus as a name of a character in a book I am writing. We need more defiance and less compliance if we are to be true men.
Because I follow Christ, I do not love everything in the poem “Invictus” in that it seems to assume there are many gods, and that man will somehow escape accountability to the True and Living Creator God. Whitney’s “The Soul’s Captain” captures that accountability well.
I enjoy both poems. The key to being a real Christian Man is to realize that follow Christ doesn’t mean you become less Manly, more compliant to people, or certainly more feminine. Read “Why Men Hate Going To Church” and you will see what I mean.

24 Rashid December 5, 2008 at 8:16 pm

“Invictus” captures the essence of manhood. In my view, this poem makes the assumption that men rely on the spirit of God–”whatever God one may follow”–for their unconquerable spirit. I had to memorize this poem during my college days and I definitely find it inspirational and encouraging, especially during an era when “whinning and crying” about things small and large, significant and insignificant, is the norm.

25 genderkid January 2, 2009 at 3:06 pm

It’s funny: I first read this in Annie On My Mind, a lesbian coming-of-age novel. So it isn’t a poem just for men, but for anyone in need of courage.

Great poem, thanks for reminding us of it!

26 Micah January 14, 2009 at 9:20 am

I like this poem because it makes you think alittle bit more about certain things.

27 Lucy February 10, 2009 at 4:41 pm

Manhood??!!!! This poem is about ANYONES courage & self-belief. It is a defiant stand against being broken or consumed by negativities in life. Whether your a man, woman or child. Its universal.

28 mery February 24, 2009 at 5:09 pm


29 Mike Fleming February 25, 2009 at 8:27 pm

Invictus was our father’s favorite poem. As a senior in High School, he was AAU Southeast Light Heavyweight weight lifting champion and heavyweight wrestling champion. He was the first Mr. CT in 1939 (actually Mr. Physical Culture of CT). He was the physical education and hand to hand combat instructor for the 508 PIR of the 82nd airborne, and pretty solidly “manned up” all his life. He was a great Dad and we will all miss him very much always.
Thanks for giving me a great way to share Invictus with my brother.

30 Violet Weed March 18, 2009 at 8:26 pm

I love Invictus, it’s a great poem to shout out loud whilst biking up a steep mountain road… but it truly misses the point. No one ‘stands alone’, not even me (although I have been living on my own since the age of 13, and now in my 60s… and most of my life I’ve lived alone, without ‘benefit’ of mate or pet. But not lonely. Still…. no one stands alone. God is always there, granting us Grace and laughing at His children’s hubris to think they are ‘masters of their fates’ and ‘captains of their souls’.

We are all going to be what we truly are now… dust in the wind, and masters of nothing.

31 Rhys July 1, 2009 at 6:46 am

this is a great poem. I think most of you miss the background though.

Invictus Maneo is latin for “I remain unconquered/unvanquished”.

which is the standard Armstrong crest motto.

the above picture is a derivative of that crest. google Invictus Maneo, or the Armstrong clan.

32 Mike October 16, 2009 at 8:59 pm

It would appear that many readers here have willfully disregarded Mr. Henley’s third line. This poem seeks to harbor all denominations and remind us all of our inconquerable soul. I have this in my office along with Kipling’s “If” and Picasso’s sketch of Don Quixote. Mighty is the pen.

33 Andrew December 3, 2009 at 7:40 am

I had to learn this poem for my senior British lit class and thought it was amazing I have kept it with me over the years and it will stay with me for years to come some poems you forget after you say it for your grade but this is definitly not one of those poems

34 Janelle May 14, 2010 at 3:46 pm

This is my all time favorite poem. Loved enough to get the last two lines tattooed on my forearm…….My words to live by.

35 Armstrong May 18, 2010 at 12:37 am

I am truly a proud Scot and this poem is inspirational. I also have “Invictus Maneo” tattoed on my foot, the Armstrong Motto, reminding me each day that I am the master of my fate and the captain of my soul.

36 Samuel November 14, 2012 at 4:06 pm

I feel sad for the religious “lambs” who can’t identify with this poem due to some false idea of mutual exclusivity between being a strong, unconquered individual and a belief in a god. This poem is for lions, religious or otherwise, surely not for lambs.

37 Bree Hooper-Whiti December 3, 2012 at 1:56 am

It is a lovely poem. The first time I read it I nearly cried because it was so beautiful. If I met him I think he might have been a lovely/kind man to me. I feel sorrow for his family, it would have been dreadful.

38 d December 15, 2012 at 9:09 pm

I was in California youth authority back in the 90′s and this poem i read while dealing with gladiator school. It was an excellent mantra to deal with and ya i still reference it as a compass.

39 Ronnie January 29, 2013 at 3:08 am

wow, “MAN”, really?
i think a mark of manliness is tolerance. and the language you’ve chosen to use in your comment, along your blatant disregard or consideration shows very little of it. Not trying to be a jerk, just stating.

40 R Armstrong February 28, 2013 at 12:43 pm

As a direct descendant of William Armstrong “Christie’s Will” I realise that many of my ancestors may well have thought that they were “captains of their soul” I am a Christian and I have seen how false that assumption is. Civilization, and morality are dependent on religion. They can never exist in a “godless” vacumn..

41 Akinlabi December 9, 2013 at 6:53 pm

this is my first time of reading thiz poem. i have never been this motivated in my entire life. infact i was transformed. i have internalised this poem. it will always remain evergreen in my memory

42 khanda December 13, 2013 at 7:02 am

This poem is one of the greatest poems that i have ever read,,,, its great cause it speak with our heart’s , emotions, directly it combine or tie both of our souls and mind’s. i have never know about this poem and the writer till i read about Nelson Mandela’s life ,,,,,,,when people around us can not understand us such poems can give us pleasure and happiness , its another way to calm our minds and another way to find our mottos inside them,,,,

43 william d stoltz January 8, 2014 at 11:31 pm

I memorized this poem in the 7th grade. I am now 62!!First, I am a GOD loving Christian. I think many people miss what these words say.Make your own decisions in life, for better or for worse. Stay strong to the end and never, never whine. My name is STOLTZ{proud}

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