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.”