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Written in the form of a sonnet, William Ernest Henleys poem “Invictus” describes the continuos battle against darkness and sin that every human being experiences in his or her life. “Invictus” is formatted in four stanzas with four lines each and every stanza serves a separate purpose then the stanzas before. Henley reveals one of the major themes of this poem through the words “My head is bloody, but unbowed” (8). This line at the end of stanza two displays that everybody will endure struggles at some point in their life, but they cannot let those struggles complete destroy hemselves.
Each stanza not only introduces realistic struggles and hardships that human beings face, but they also illustrate how humans can triumph over those hardships. For example, the very beginning of the poem starts off with “Out of the night that covers me/ Black as the pit from pole to pole” implying that darkness and wickedness surround someone’s life (1-2). Later on in the beginning of stanzas two and three words such as “fell clutch/… horror of the shade’… [and] menace of the years” also introduce a dark and gloomy tone to the poem (4,9-10).
Once the gloomy tone has een presented, Henley quickly switches gears and flips the tone to one of strength and encouragement; The transition of tones is exhibited in strong language such as “l have not winced, nor cried aloud” (6). Henley formats each stanza in a way where the reader leaves with positive thoughts as he or she continues reading.
All throughout the poem, every line contains either a positive or negative tone; however, the order in which the lines are written change with each stanza.
Rather than simply alternating between positive and negative tones with each line, Henley hanges not only the orders but also the amount of the positive and negative lines within each stanza. For example, the first stanza contains two negatively toned lines that are followed by two positive lines, but the second stanza alternates from negative to positive. By altering the order of the lines, Henley hints at the fact that life can throw good or bad things at you in any order.
Different from all other stanza’s, the third stanza contains three negatively toned lines and only one positively toned line. The stanza begins “Beyond this place of wrath and tears/ Looms but the Horror of the shade/ and yet the menace of the years” creating an extremely dark and malicious feel to the stanza (9-11). However, the maliciousness is shown to be ineffective to this person as the “menace of the years/ finds and shall find [him/her] unafraid” (11-12).
Since stanza three contains three negatively toned lines in a row, it indicates that life can become absolutely overwhelming with darkness and evil, but no matter how hopeless life may seem people always have the choice to fight and “be unafraid”. The themes of self-reliance and survival present themselves strongly in the last stanza. Essentially, Henleys “Invictus” can be summed up with one simple statement: humans control their own lives, they have been given the authority to do whatever they desire.
The use of the words “Master” and “Captain” in lines 15-16 prove this statement because both masters and captains are leaders who are inclined to make their own decisions. These lasts lines ultimately prove that people are in control of in their own hands. Whether a person ends up down the road of triumph or defeat falls complete upon his or herself because “[they] are the Masters of [their] fate/ [they] are the Captains of [their] soul” (15-16).
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