The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It


I remember the trepidation with which I faced taking my SAT exam.  As I saw it, my whole future depended on how I performed on this test.  I was truly fearful – wanting to do my best – and not wanting to disappoint my parents and grandmother.  This was a lot of responsibility for a 16-year old.

I was to take the exam on Saturday.  I realized that I had a decent vocabulary – one of the things that would be tested – and that my math skills were excellent.  I simply had to put aside my fear and allow the years of quality education  to flow through me and on to the answer sheet.  I needed to calm down – confident in my abilities.

So I decided that rather than spending the day worrying about what tomorrow would bring I should do something to relieve my anxiety.  I found an anthology of poetry among my parents’ library and happened to turn to the following poem:


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

The Friday that I read this poem I knew nothing about its author.  I do remember a sense of overwhelming comfort and confidence about my exam the next day as I read and re-read it.  I went to my Encyclopedia to find out a little about the poet who had penned this beautiful piece.

Henley is best remembered for this poem – supposedly written after his left leg was amputated – the result of the tuberculosis of the bone from which he had suffered since he was 12 years old.  He was a friend of Robert Louis Stevenson and was purportedly the basis for that author’s character Long John Silver because of the peg that was inserted in place of his missing limb.

At a time in which there were handicapped people but no handicapped accommodations to assist them – I can only imagine the difficulty of getting through the day to do day challenges that each of us faces.   After learning more about the author, this poem took on even more significance for me.

I cannot say whether it was because I had received an excellent education, reading the poem, “Invictus” or both, but I did very well on the SAT exams.  And to this day I hold strong to the belief that,

“I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”

Comments on: "INVICTUS" (12)

  1. And what an inspiring movie it was too – I saw it on big screen, bought the DVD and watched it more than 20 times. Nelson M is my hero 🙂 The last two phrases will always stay in my heart.

    Well done with your SATS.

  2. The SAT’s came and went – but that I am still “Master of my fate and Captain of my soul” has turned out to be far more important. How little did I understand as a 16 year old the true importance of what truly was important. Hopefully, I’ve grown since then.

  3. I too love that poem and find inspiration and truth in the last two lines. Well penned.

  4. Thank you. I am glad that you have known this poem – and live by it’s message.

  5. Beautiful piece! Love the way you interpreted the poem and linked it to helping you with succeeding in your SAT. Nice share!

  6. Loved the poem!

  7. SO powerful!
    I feel so many people now days play the victim. It isn’t the government’s job to take care of us. As Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” Somewhere, somehow, that got switched around and it’s killing us.
    I did not know Henley was the basis for Long John Silver! I’ll have to show this to my husband and my dad! Learn something new every day!
    I’ll be shooting it out on fb!
    Great post. Very inspirational!

  8. Glad you enjoyed it Jennifer!

    Let’s look at your statement for a moment. “I feel so many people now days play the victim.” I couldn’t agree more. But who in their right minds wants to be a victim? (I don’t have a large collection of people whom I know that I would categorize as masochistic).

    Slavery has always victimized people wherever it was practiced. It is endemic to the institution itself. Living on a sub-standard poverty level income is no less victimizing to its recipients but is justified as being “beneficent” because it is provided by government (which is to say that each of us who pays into the Federal coffers are the new slave owners).

    I don’t want to own anyone else. (I don’t even consider my companion dogs possessions – but rather creatures with whom I am priviliged to share my home, life and heart).

    Let those still in bondage be the masters of their fate. Let’s help them see that the only way they can break their chains of slavery is through education and personal effort.

    • I love this. It’s so common sense. Education and personal effort are the keys to escape. I agree!! I don’t want to own anyone either. Dear God! I have friends who seem stuck and are always complaining, but they aren’t truly trying to break free. This frustrates me.
      Education. Education. Education. This is my new goal for this year. I’m living in a small, southern town at the moment and I feel it’s missing. The minds are so tightly closed to new comers and new ideas. This mess has to stop.
      One day at a time. One key at a time, I guess.

  9. The longest journey begins with but a single step.

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