Movie Mom

Movie Mom

Invictus: The Poem

posted by Nell Minow

I thought you might like to see the text of the poem that gives its name to one of this week’s big releases, “Invictus,” directed by Clint Eastwood. The poem was a source of inspiration to Nelson Mandela during his captivity and he wrote out a copy by hand for the captain of the rugby team to inspire him to lead them to the world championship. The title is Latin for “unconquered.” The poet, William Ernest Henley, wrote it from his hospital bed. His indomitable spirit led him to triumph over the amputation of his leg.
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.

  • jestrfyl

    Thanks for sending along this poem. I’ve read it before, including for a class discussion of :Johnny Got His Gun”. It will help me appreciate the new film all the more.

  • Pam

    Thank you for sharing this poem — I am SO looking forward to this movie.

  • Sherrie Lovler

    Here’s a calligraphy version of the poem.

  • Nell Minow

    Thank you, Sherrie!

  • Abbigail

    Morgan Freeman is great actor and he has done great work in an Invictus movie. but the director Eastwood has reduce power of story. any how it will heal the wound of apartheid.

  • SouthAfricanChic

    Thanks for posting.

  • SouthAfricanChic

    Abbigail, I don’t think we can critique a movie until we’ve seen it. But from what you’re saying, I don’t think anything can fully tell the story of the struggle we’ve been through as South Africans and the fight we’re still undertaking to bring true equality. Many South Africans are excited that Clint Eastwood has told our story and honored great people like Nelson Mandela, and also acknowledged others who fought for what’s right – in their own way! Listening to Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon interviews, they pay South Africans only the greatest respect and point out the best of us! So I appreciate this movie and them for making it! And maybe it’ll be good for us to watch it, remind us of what’s important and what we’re fighting for (since everyone’s so pessimistic these days).

  • joon

    Hope the movie is less dull than the poem.

  • Nell Minow

    Well, Joon, maybe it feels less dull when you are imprisoned for 27 years or have some other experience with actual adversity. But thanks for writing!

  • Nell Minow

    Wise words, SouthAfricanChic. I hope you will let me know what you think when you see the movie. My best wishes to you and your countrymen and women!

  • Robert

    Well I saw the movie and being married to a south african I would give the movie a 4. In typical hollywood fashion they exaggerate the use of rugby to unite the nation. While we were sitting in the theatre my wife kept turing to me stating, “That never happened” several times. I think the biggest issue I had with the movie was that it focused so much on Rugby and not enough on the emotional aspect. For instance, what was the special branch officers really like toward the blacks back then or even what was it like for Francois Pienaar to grow up during apartheid.
    As citizen of a nation(I’m talking to 99.9% of North Americans here) that wouldn’t understand those types of conditions, I want to know more history.
    I did appreciate the poem unlike the other poster and I got a sense of the conditions Nelson Mandella endured for all those years. Truly an inspirational person who we could all look up to and strive to be half as good as he is.
    If people want to see a movie that Morgan Freeman directed back in 1993 staring Danny Glover rent Bopha. An amazing depiction of true life in South Africa during apartheid.

  • Geoff

    I grew up in South Africa and was a 20-something year, and was living in SA at the time of that rugby match. The match did more for mending the unmendable than any other single event, AND, possible even more importantly it came at exactly the right time. Tensions were just starting to mount a little, small flare-ups, some might call it a time-bomb.
    From my experience the movie tells it like it is (maybe except for the kid and the cops… something a little too cute maybe). Robert, you miss the point of the movie entirely, what you are addressing is another movie/documentary altogether.
    The match in real life was immensely powerful (anyone who experienced it and doesn’t think so was too busy knitting or had their head buried in the sand), after 20 years of exclusion, whites knew that SA was the best rugby playing nation in the world and was unable to prove it, blacks didn’t care about this at all. When SA won, blacks and whites all knew that SA was finally on the world stage, the world had exposed and conquered the oppressive government and we all emerged together. It was “celebrate or fight”, and I think everyone knew how they wanted the story to go on.

  • Southern Sassi

    We saw the movie last night with friends and were very, very moved. I am so glad we have this movie of substance vs all the typical loose sex, no morality films that are so popular today. That made this one refreshing.
    The topic, of course, is anything but refreshing. A big thank you to Clint Eastwood and others who worked so hard to bring such an important topic into the mainstream of thought and discussion today. Sure, it may not be perfect, but it is definitely a move in the right direction.

  • Nell Minow

    Thanks, Southern Sassi! I am very glad you enjoyed the film and really appreciate your comment.

  • Nell Minow

    Thanks so much. Geoff. Your perspective is very insightful and much appreciated.

  • Mark Wortman

    “That never happened”…??? One thing for sure, that happened, they got your money. Better luck on the Whinny Mandela story.


    The first movie i’ve ever seen this year 2010, that brought me tears…. and thus made me believe that ” COMPASSION IS MORE POWERFUL THAN ANGER”!

  • Nell Minow

    A beautiful thought, Alex! Many thanks.

  • Karey

    Wonderful what you’re doing here, Nell. I quoted you on my blog (scheduled to appear on Monday) and feel like I’ve found a kindred soul :)

  • Nell Minow

    How wonderful, Karey! I’d love to see a link when it is up. Many thanks and I hope you return often.

  • Sharon Turner

    Or, to quote Carrie Fisher, “resentment is like drinking poison, and waiting for the other person to die.”

  • Nell Minow

    Lovely, Sharon, thanks!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment wuri

    very inspiring poems

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Christina (Garry) Pinau

    I love this poem because it was quoted by someone who made it important! What a man.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Anthony

    If only the world’s people would read these words today, that they might find the spirit in themselves to treat humanity with respect, and with that respect they might find compassion in their soul for another person.

    • Nell Minow

      Thank you, Anthony. I love this poem and the story behind it.

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