It was not until maybe an hour ago that I completely understood the meaning of the newly released film called Invictus. Thanks to a good friend of mine, who for the sake of this post we will call Cindy Murray, for pointing out the fact that was the title of a poem that Nelson Mendela had written down on a scrap of paper while he was imprisoned.
This is a short poem by the English poet William Ernest Henley. It was written in 1875 and first published in 1888 in Henley’s Book of Verses and although it was initially untitled, the name Invictus was given to it by Arthur Quiller-Couch when he published The Oxford Book of English Verse in 1900.
In the movie, Nelson Mendela gives this hand-written poem to the captain of the Springbok although it has been claimed that he actually gave the captain with an extract from Theodore Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena” speech from 1910 that he gave in Paris – both of which are provided below.
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.
The Man in the Arena:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.