INVICTUSOut 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 change
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)
The first time I read this poem, I thought the author was being arrogant and controlling. It was only after watching the documentary film, I Am Not Your Negro, that I felt the need to revisit the words of this poem and really ponder what Henley was trying to convey. What I discovered was what takes most of us a long time to understand and embrace. A profound yet simple truth that is indelibly tied to how we view and experience life. It’s this: Life happens. And, majority of the time, we have little control over what happens, how it happens, or why it happens. There are circumstances and experiences that we have absolutely no control over — death, heartbreak, opinions, illness, etc. However, we are able to exert influence over how those circumstances and experiences impact who we are and the people we become. This poem talks about weathering the hardest storms of life, and how we have the power to emerge from those situations unharmed. Not unchanged, but with minimal to no permanent damage. We always have two choices when faced with tough times: we either act or we react. How we choose to posture ourselves in the face of profound moments that wear on our very souls is what makes us “the captains of (our) souls.” We all possess the capability to influence our future, as well as the capacity to decide how we will respond to the unpredictability of life through our emotions. You see, the soul is the seat of the emotions, some of the most fleeting things known to man. But we have a choice when faced with situations that stir up our emotions — either we rule our emotions, or our emotions rule us. We can be emotional volcanos that explode with every life encounter, or we can captain our souls, and steer those same emotions toward something positive and productive. Life happens either way, and every situation affords us the opportunity to grow and mature into better people.
Henley was on to something. Every person is created with the capacity to become formidable creatures, and learning the lessons of life provides the space for us to grow into resilient people who weather the storms of life with strength and inner peace. Life may knock us around, but, as we build resiliency, we build an “unconquerable soul.” We learn how to endure, to perservere, and to survive the storm, and then come out on the other side thriving.