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What is the "Invictus" poem about?

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Quick Answer

William Ernest Henley's poem "Invictus," as it's title suggests, is about a spirit which even in death stands without fear. That spirit claims self-command and self-possession as its virtues. Though the language of the poem echoes religious ideas, it has a humanistic feel, and interpretations vary widely.

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Full Answer

"Invictus" is a lyric poem consisting of four quatrains. In the first quatrain, the author describes himself situated in a world-covering darkness, and thanks any gods that may exist for the gift of his soul, which cannot be conquered. In the second quatrain, Henley admits that he has been wounded in life, but despite that, he has never surrendered. In the third quatrain, he recognizes that when this hard life is done, the harder reality of death awaits, but that has not, and never will, fear it. In the final quatrain, Henley considers the possibility of an afterlife and divine judgment, but neither prospect appears to move him as he asserts his rulership over his own fate and spirit.

While some critics of serious poetry find "Invictus" lacking in those qualities that make a poem truly great, the poem has remained popular since publication in 1875.

"Invictus" is a Latin word meaning "invincible."

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