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The Intersection of Science, Art, Music & Humanities

Invictus: fortitude in Adversity

Sunday, January 07, 2018

William Ernest Henley's 1875 poem "Invictus" seems particularly appropriate for the first 2018 Sunday Morning Stop at the Intersection of Science, Art, Music and Humanities.

William Henley fought a lifelong battle with tuberculosis of the bones and wrote "Invictus" after a twenty-month painful hospital stay. His poetry inspires us to maintain an attitude of hope, no matter what the circumstances may be.  

Invictus is a Latin word that means "unconquered," "unsubdued," or "invincible." The theme of the poem is survival and resilience—a universal priority during difficult personal times and through difficult times in our country's political history.

A University of Oregon music student Joshua Rist composed the coral music for "Invictus" His work speaks to Henley's zeal for life and self-determinacy. 

It is Rist's hope that the spirit and ideals expressed in the poetry may continue to inspire and embolden, as it does in his breathtakingly beautiful choral, piano and cello piece above, performed at the University of Calgary. 



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

Winston Churchill paraphrased the last two lines of the poem in a 1941 speech to the House of Commons. It was also read and passed around by Senator John McCain and other US POWs in North Vietnamese prisons.

Nelson Mandela frequently recited the poem to other prisoners while incarcerated at Robben Island prison and was empowered by its message of self-mastery. Barack Obama also quoted the last stanza at Nelson Mandela's memorial service in South Africa. 

Wishing all of our readers an invictus Sunday morning and following New Year 

Ellen Troyer with Spencer Thornton, MD, David Amess and the Biosyntrx staff