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October 30, 2013

Invictus - an inspirational poem

"Invictus" is a short Victorian poem by William Ernest Henley (1849–1903). It was first published in 1875 in a book called Book of Verses,

 It originally had no title.Early printings contained only the dedication To R. T. H. B.—a reference to Robert Thomas Hamilton Bruce (1846–1899),  a literary patron.  When the poem was included in The Oxford Book of English Verse  the title "Invictus" ( "unconquered" in Latin) was added by Arthur Quiller-Couch, the editor

While in prison on Robben Island prison, Nelson Mandela recited the poem to other prisoners and was empowered by its message of self-mastery. 

In the movie Invictus, Mandela gives the captain of the national South African rugby team the poem to inspire him to lead his team to a Rugby World Cup win, telling him how it inspired him in prison. 

In reality, as opposed to the movie, Mandela gave the captain, Francois Pienaar, a copy of "The Man in the Arena" passage from President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt's speech Citizenship in a Republic instead.

The Burmese opposition leader and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi stated, "This poem had inspired my father, Aung San, and his contemporaries during the independent struggle, as it also seemed to have inspired freedom fighters in other places at other times."

Surinamese President Desi Bouterse also finds the poem inspiring and has a wall sized version on the wall outside his office.Like Mandela,Bouterse is committed to creating National unity through sport.

In a recent speech welcoming the FIFA World Cup to Suriname he made reference to the last two lines of the poem.

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.

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