W.E. Henley

The poems in Africa! My Africa! were written by Africans or about Africa, in the broadest sense, or with just a touch of Africa.

The only exception is Invictus by William Ernest Henley.

Henley fell victim, at the age of twelve, to tuberculosis of the bone. The disease progressed to his foot and his leg was amputated directly below the knee, purportedly to save his life, when he was twenty-five. He wrote Invictus from his hospital bed in 1875. Despite his disability, he led an active life until his death at the age of 53.

Invictus is included in this collection because it inspired Nelson Mandela while he was in prison. He used the term ‘captain of my soul’ in some of his letters. He also spoke about the poem, years after his release, as having encouraged him through his incarceration. He discussed the poem with Springbok rugby captain François Pienaar, in advance of the Rugby World Cup hosted by South Africa in 1995.

William Ernest 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.



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