October 30, 2009
William Ernest Henley (1849–1903) was an amputee who persevered despite his disability. He was the physical inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous amputee character Long John Silver. His daughter was said to have inspired, and coined the name of, J.M. Barrie’s character Wendy.
Probably his greatest contribution to humanity was this poem about resilience, written shortly after his leg was surgically removed (by none other than Joseph Lister, inventor of sterile surgery) to prevent the spread of a tuberculosis infection.
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.