Friday, May 15, 2009

Poetry Friday- William Ernest Henley: Invictus

Almost a year ago, when we were deciding what to sell or take with us on our move to Yellowknife from Iqaluit, the T.V. didn't make the cut. We knew how much of a time suck it was becoming, we'd save money from not having to pay cable fees or satellite bills, and we could still watch dvds on the computer. But, all of that was easy to say when we were heading into rerun season.

Surprisingly, even when the new season started in the fall, we didn't break down. The only show we really missed, because it's not available on DVD, has been the Amazing Race*. Recently, however, my wife discovered that we could find it on YouTube. Hallelujah!

What does this all have to do with Poetry Friday? Good question.

On last night's episode (Season 13, episode 3), contestant Aja found herself bumping down a Bolivian road on a homemade bicycle. As she began to lose control she could be heard saying, "I am the captain of my fate, I am the master of my soul."

Clearly she was quoting a poem, but for the life of me I couldn't place it. Langston Hughes? Walt Whitman?

Fortunately, and being one of the advantages of watching TV online, I Googled it and quickly discerned that it was from William Earnest Henley's poem, "Invictus":

Out of the night that covers me, Black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever God may be, For my unconquerable soul. In the fell clutch of circumstance, I have not cried nor winced aloud, Under the bludgeoning 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 straight the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the captain of my fate, I am the master of my soul.

A fine poem, though I add it here not out of great admiration, but because of the unexpected way it popped up. Looking through some of my poetry anthologies, sure enough there it was. But 100 years since Henley wrote it, it took a reality TV show for me pay it some attention. Anthologies are fine, but there's a lot to be said for just happening upon poetry.

*And when are they going to open the Amazing Race to international contestants, anyway?


Barbara Bruederlin said...

I always thought it was George Costanza who said that. Obviously I need to watch more tv if I am ever going to get on top of this poetry business.

John Mutford said...

Barbara: Had she called out, "I am the master of my domain" those bike sales would have soared.

Kelly Polark said...

You are quite the detective! Great find!

Carrie K said...

Found poetry does have it's charm.

For not knowing that poem at all, I've certainly heard bits of it quoted forever.

Wanda said...

Just learned of a book called 'Out of the Night that Covers Me'! It was "my choice" for the Stone Soup draw last week ... cool to learn the title comes from this poem.