I was reading at my regular online Thursday poetry night when a New York Times news flash came onto my computer screen with the news that Nelson Mandela had died. This was minutes after the news was released and there were only a few minutes left for my poetry event. I suggested that I ended the session with the Victorian poem Invictus by the English poet William Ernest Henley (1849 – 1903) which I knew Nelson Mandela loved and kept in his prison on Robben Island where he was incarcerated for 27 years for his belief in freedom and democracy. I’d heard too that he often read this poem to his fellow prisoners hoping to inspire them with its passion, bravery and moral strength.
The World is mourning the passing of a great man and others have said many of the things that we will always associate with his name. All I can do here is quote that poem again and say that it was a moving experience to read this to an international group of poets within minutes of the great man’s death.
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.