You have to ask, what were they thinking? What was going through their minds?
By what process did the admen behind this advert think of using ‘Invictus’ – William Ernest Henley’s beautiful short poem – to sell a Bank?
Did they not understand what the poem was about? Did they think banking would somehow make us master of our fate?
‘Invictus’ told of the author’s nobility and courage in his near-death fight with tuberculosis. How this could ever be confused with the dubious ethics that inspire financial greed, shows how much literature and art is ultimately used to maintain the status in the quo.
Henley was 12 when he fell ill with tuberculosis of the bone. By his late teens, the disease had spread to his foot. Though Henley coped bravely his life was ultimately marked down by the disease. By the age of twenty-five, physicians told Henley the only way they could save his life was to amputate his leg below the knee.
His leg was amputated in 1875, and Henley successfully went on to live a full life until the age of 53.
But as the young poet lay in his hospital bed, suffering the pain, considering the loss of his limb, and the continuing threat of death, Henley wrote a poem that took his own personal suffering and sacrifice, as an example for others to follow, in order to achieve self-autonomy. That by courage and strength, we may all be captains of our souls.
Originally titled by its dedication ‘To R. T. H. B.’ (the patron Robert Thomas Hamilton Bruce), Henley’s poem was retitled ‘Invictus’ (Latin for ‘unconquered’) when it was included in ‘The Oxford Book of English Verse’.
Sad to say, Henley’s noble sentiment is considered out of date in our self-serving and litigious world, but its true meaning is a something we should all take to heart.
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 gait,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.