I have heard much about Nelson Mandela‘s 27 years in prison and his eventual release and election as South Africa’s first president in a representative democratic election. But I didn’t know how he survive those long, drawn-out years in a tiny prison cell on Robben Island, until I saw the movie Invictus.
In a conversation on the big screen with Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon, the captain of South Africa’s rugby team), Mandela (Morgan Freeman) shared with Pienaar that during his darkest moments in prison, his spirit was lifted and sustained by the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley, and that he would not have made it through prison if not for the words of this English poet who lived from 1849 to 1903.
In that instant, I was reminded of the power of words to heal and inspire. I was also reminded how our lives are more intertwined than we realize. After the movie, I researched further and learned that Henley had written the poem from a hospital bed during a traumatic time after his leg was amputated. I am sure he didn’t know that one day, many years later, his poem would deeply touch and save another great man – Nelson Mandela – who survived his darkest years to become South Africa’s “national liberator, savior, its George Washington and Abraham Lincoln rolled into one (Newsweek).”
I am completely blown away that a poem had saved Mandela’s life and perhaps changed the course of history forever. Its message is simple. Indeed Henley and Mandela led by example and showed us how to be “the masters of our fate, the captains of our souls.”
Well, without further ado, here’s the poem, may you be inspired!
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.