Invictus » About the Author

About the Author

William Ernest Henley

  • Mr. William Ernest Henley was an English poet who lived in Victorian England of the 19th century.

  • He was born July 11, 1849.

  • He wrote the beginnings of Invictus while he was began a lifelong battle with tuberculosis as a young boy of 12.  He began to write the verses “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul” as he recovered from the amputation of one of his legs in the hospital.

  • After his education, Mr. Henley attempted to be a journalist but was always interrupted by his battle with tuberculosis.

  • Mr. Henley died of tuberculosis in 1903 (20th century) at the age of 53.

  • Invictus is a continuing reminder of Mr. Henley’s resilience and resolved during his lifelong battle with tuberculosis.


Facts about Invictus

  • Invictus was written by William Ernest Henley in 1875 (late 19th century).
  • It was published in 1888 as a part of “A Book of Versus” in a section about Life and Death
  • Invictus was written while Mr. Henley was battling tuberculosis and had his legs amputated.
  • The Invictus Games; an international Paralympic-style multi-sport event created by Prince Harry (a prince from the United Kingdom) in which wounded, injured or sick armed services personnel and their associated veterans take part in sport, has featured the poem in its promotions.
  • Invictus is a poem that is used by many fraternities and sororities as an invocation of one’s resolve, determination and courage.
  • Invictus is a poem used by many in the armed forces to invoke strength, courage and determination.
  • In a speech to the House of Commons on 9 September 1941, Winston Churchill paraphrased the last two lines of the poem, stating "We are still masters of our fate. We still are captains of our souls.”
  • While incarcerated at Robben Island prison, Nelson Mandela recited the poem to other prisoners and was empowered by its message of self-mastery.
  • 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 independence struggle, as it also seemed to have inspired freedom fighters in other places at other times."
  • The poem was read by US POWs in North Vietnamese prisons. James Stockdale recalls being passed the last stanza, written with rat droppings on toilet paper, from fellow prisoner David Hatcher.
  • The line "bloody, but unbowed" was the Daily Mirror's headline the day after the 7 July 2005 London bombings.
  • The poem's last stanza was quoted by US President Barack Obama at the end of his speech at Nelson Mandela's memorial service (10 December 2013) in South Africa and published on the front cover of the December 14, 2013 issue of The Economist.
  • The line "I am the master of my fate... I am the captain of my soul" is used in Lana Del Rey's song "Lust for Life" featuring The Weeknd. The lyrics are changed from "I" to "we," alluding to a relationship.
  • The poem was recited by students by the Eagle Academy during the 2016 United States National Democratic Convention.