There is a new movie out called Invictus starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. The movie takes its title from a poem of the same name, “Invictus,” the best-remembered work of British poet William Ernest Henley (1849-1903). Invictus is a Latin word meaning “unconquered,” and the poem was written in 1875 as a demonstration of the poet’s resilience following the amputation of his foot due to tubercular infection. Freeman plays Nelson Mandela in the movie and the poem was recited by Mandela daily for motivation during the thirty years of his political imprisonment in South Africa. Click through to read more about the movie and the poem that was its inspiration.
The movie revisits the time at which Nelson Mandela had been newly elected to president in a nation divided racially and economically in the wake of apartheid (a system of legal racial segregation enforced by the National Party government in South Africa between 1948 and early 1994). Mandela felt that he could unite his people by rallying the country’s underdog rugby team and uniting people in the language of sports.
In one scene of the movie, Mandela takes the captain of the rugby team played by Matt Damon to see the cell in which he was housed while in prison. It was during this scene that Mandela mentioned the poem to the captain and its impact upon him. Fascinatingly, a poem written to provide motivation for a poet a century prior provided motivation to a man who himself can be considered unconquerable!
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.
-William Ernest Henley