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William Ernest Henley - Invictus

William Ernest Henley - Invictus Poetry Biographies Famous People Social Studies

William Ernest Henley (1849-1903), the author of "Invictus" - a poem which sustained Nelson Mandela  through his decades of imprisonment - was himself no stranger to life’s difficulties. 

In Modern British Poetry, Louis Untermeyer gives us a brief biographical sketch of Henley:

Willian Ernest Henley was born in 1849 and was educated at the Grammar School of Gloucester.  From childhood he was afflicted with a tuberculous disease which finally necessitated the amputation of a foot.

His Hospital Verses, those vivid precursors of current free verse, were a record of the time when he was at the infirmary at Edinburgh; they are sharp with the sights, sensations, even the actual smells of the sickroom.

In spite (or, more probably, because) of his continued poor health, Henley never ceased to worship strength and energy; courage and a triumphant belief in a harsh world shine out of the athletic London Voluntaries (1892) and the lightest and most musical lyrics in Hawthorn and Lavender (1898).

The bulk of Henley's poetry is not great in volume.  He has himself explained the small quantity of his work in a Preface to his Poems, first published by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1898. 

"A principal reason," he says, " is that, after spending the better part of my life in the pursuit of poetry, I found myself (about 1877) so utterly unmarketable that I had to own myself beaten in art, and to indict myself to journalism for the next ten years."

Later on, he began to write again - "old dusty sheaves were dragged to light; the work of selection and correction was begun; I burned much; I found that, after all, the lyrical instinct had slept - not died."  (Untermeyer, pages 9 and 10.)

What, by the way, is the meaning of "Invictus?" It is Latin for "undefeated" or "unconquerable."

The word had a special meaning for Henley. He wrote his famous poem when he was in the hospital, being treated for Pott's Disease (which is tuberculosis of the bone.)

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5139stories and lessons created

Original Release: Oct 07, 2013

Updated Last Revision: Dec 15, 2017


Media Credits

Image of Henley, online courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Quoted passage, from Modern British Poetry, by Louis Untermeyer, pages 9 and 10.  Online, courtesy Google Books.

 

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