December 27, 2009


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.

Maybe it's because I just watched the historically somewhat inaccurate movie of the same name, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon (it's not a bad movie, by the way, although it suffers from the same problems as all movies with a sports story at the core: it gets dreadfully repetitious as the big match is coming), maybe it's because of how Morgan Freeman reads this particular poem written by William Ernest Henley in 1875, and how much it evokes the man he plays: Nelson Mandela...

... and yes, I am perfectly aware that the actual Mandela didn't give this poem to Pieenar but rather the Theodore Roosevelt Man In The Arena, but I don't care all that much. Freeman quotes it beautifully, the way only Freeman can.

The last two lines are the ones most known the world over, and have often been misquoted, abused and spoken without a deeper understanding about the poem's true meaning. Its writer being in deepest despair when he wrote it, unwilling to yield, unwilling to give up, the poem is an anthem to those who are left alone, left in the dark, to those who are overlooked and forgotten and who hold on to their basic humanity.

This will not break me, the poem says. They will not break me.

How true. How very true.