Analysis of Invictus: an Inspirational Poem of Yore

Invictus by William Ernest Henley turns 145 years old in the year 2020. For a poem rated as the world’s most famous bad poem by some critics, it depicts inner strength, mental toughness, and courage. 

I think the critics who disliked Invictus probably had never been through harsh circumstances like Henley did. Also, it seems they had a different view of life from the poet’s and they couldn’t bear it. They saw this poem as boastful. It’s a justifiable reason because the author creates uncertainty about the existence of “gods” and alludes all his ability to himself instead of directing his praise to God. 

I see Invictus as an inspiring poem. It raised my spirits reading it and I hope it can do the same (or more) for you during challenging times. Life is very tough sometimes and you have to find great strength to survive it. William Ernest Henley did just that with Invictus.  

Henley had a debilitating illness when he was a teenager with a whole life still ahead of him. He had to undergo foot amputation to save his life. He was told the other one had to go too. For more information about William Ernest Henley go to this link. The guy survived those trying times and others. He wrote about his experiences and his meditations through poetry.

I hope by looking at one of his poems, the famous Invictus, you might also find the fortitude to face depressing circumstances in life. We’ll look shortly at that poem below. Also, continue reading for a brief stanza-by-stanza analysis of the poem.


by William E. Henley

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.

Disclaimer: This poem is in the public domain

An Analysis of Invictus Poem with an Inspirational Focus 

The Title – Invictus

The educated class often used Latin in their writings during the time of William Ernest Henley’s existence. 

The poet originally wrote the poem without a title.

Therefore, later editors chose this title with a reason since the word “Invictus” does not appear in the poem itself.

However, the meaning is clarified when you read the poem. The title is one word because the poem defines the word

Three words which define Invictus stand out:

  • unconquerable
  • unbowed
  • unafraid

The meaning of the poem Invictus 

Invictus is an inspirational poem with the potential to strengthen you and challenge your ideas. It’s a poem about life and death. The following is the meaning of the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley from a motivational perspective. 

Stanza 1

The speaker in Invictus describes his experience “out of the night that covers me,” and compares it to “the pit.” He uses the article “the” not “a” implying he is referring to a specific pit. Then, he offers gratitude for an “unconquerable soul” whose source might be “the gods.”


We go through dark times in life which may seem never-ending but don’t allow it to defeat you. If you believe in God, give Him thanks for making you resilient to the challenges you face.

Stanza 2

The phrase “in the fell clutch” means in an evil grip. Line 5 personifies “circumstance.” the persona in Invictus is in a situation which he did not want to be in and he would have easily avoided it if it was within his power. However, there is no way out of it because of “the fell clutch of circumstance.” “Under the bludgeoning of chance” implies repeated unanticipated situations weigh heavily on the soul.

Nevertheless, the persona does not complain about it as seen in line 6 “I have not winced nor cried aloud.” He feels weak but he refuses to lose his strength. He endures despite the horrible circumstances which he finds himself in time and time again.


Harsh circumstances beyond your control can be cruel and hard to escape from. Remain strong and move forward without pitying yourself or complaining about it. Illnesses, accidents, failures, and deaths are some of the depressing circumstances which may happen at any time and without a way out.

Stanza 3

The persona is angry and in pain because of the circumstances faced and sees “the Horror of the shade” as the next step. “The menace of the years” implies that as time goes by it seems there’s no end to the problems.


At the present moment, you have struggles you battle with and it’s not the end of problems. You will face more challenges as the years go by. You can slow down years going by and with advanced age comes more challenges. The widespread business of products promising to slow down the process of ageing is very lucrative because many of us fear old age. You can anticipate those years without fear.

Stanza 4

“Strait” in this context describes “the gate.” This gives the image of a narrow passage which implies a difficult situation you have to pass through. 


No matter how difficult situations can be, how guilty you may feel you have a choice on how you want your life to be. You are free to make decisions and manage your own life. The source of mental strength is often from within. To be strong is your choice. No matter how others try to motivate or demotivate you, their effort will be in vain unless you master inner strength. If the world gets mad because you dare to continue when they expect you to fail, so be it. 

Keep being invictus. Unconquerable. Unbowed. Unafraid. Be the master of your fate. be the captain of your soul.

That’s my take. Do you agree? If not, what is your explanation? If yes, what can you add to this interpretation of Invictus

Final word

Be invictus. Ask God for an unconquerable soul. Be a soul which doesn’t lose to the dark times in life but emerges a winner. Be unafraid and don’t bow your head in defeat. Don’t quit. Life is for living. Keep living. Don’t give up.

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