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William Ernest Henley's Invictus: Poem Analysis

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Invictus Analysis

William Ernest Henley’s Invictus is a poem that conveys the idea of dealing with struggles head-on. The struggle, in this situation, is a reference to Henley’s bout of tuberculosis of the bone, which led to his leg being amputated. The speaker does not allow the possibility of failure, death, become something of an afterthought. This point is apparent through the personification of the struggle as something trying to beat the speaker down and through the metaphors and similes that compare said struggle to things associated with death and despair.

Henley’s attitude toward his situation is shown through the metaphors he uses to describe what he is feeling. For example, when the speaker says “Black as the pit from pole” he is comparing what he is going through to the pit of Hell, which is often associated with suffering and a lack of peace. Henley’s message of the poem, fighting to overcome a struggle, is relevant to the human experience because everyone, in every walk of life, comes across a struggle at some point in their life, and approaching those struggles with this attitude is what the author feels is best. Also, when the speaker says “in the fell clutch of circumstance”, he is comparing what he is going through to a creature with an unforgiving grip. This metaphor and simile show that Henley is overburdened by what he is going through and that it can be compared to something hellish or feral, which is then described as something physically affecting Henley.

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Henley often refers to his situation as something that has a physical effect on him. Again the line “In the fell clutch of circumstance” shows what Henley is trying to get across, but here it is a personification of his illness. This personification tells the reader that that Henley’s situation is clearly having a physical effect on his life. This effect is also apparent in the line “Under the bludgeonings of chance”, where Henley is saying that his illness is a result of fate hammering down on him. However, in the last stanza Henley states,“I am the master of my fate, and the captain of my soul” challenging the fact that he is stuck in his situation because he believes he can pass through the narrow gate mentioned in the stanza, which is likely a symbol for freedom of illness. This line also shows how the author deals with a struggle because he shows no sign of fear.

Invictus expresses William Ernest Henley’s unconquerable soul by explaining what it was like for him to deal with something like an amputation. He expressed how his pain was like something physically beating down on him and that it could be compared to something hellish. Henley dealt with his struggle by looking it straight in the face instead of running away, and by not letting the thought of death get in his way. His way of overcoming problems is significant to the poem because it can teach the reader; it can teach one to adopt Henley’s ways and tackle problems by running at them instead of away from them.

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