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How often are you the master of your fate and captain of your soul?

Today is August 12 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often are you the master of your fate and captain of your soul?” Those who leverage their mind, body, and spirit to translate one dream after another understand almost anyone who has ever navigated the chaos travels a rugged path filled with obstacles and that is far from straight. Those who navigate the chaos have a strong belief they control their destiny and remain steadfast in their determination, unconquered by their adversaries, unsubdued by time, and invincible in spirit so they may serve as master of their fate and captain of their soul.

The lines “master of your fate and captain of your soul” stem from the poem "Invictus" by the Victorian era English poet William Ernest Henley (1849–1903). It was written in 1875 and published in 1888 in his first volume of poems, Book of Verses. Originally, the poem was published with no title. The poem was reprinted in nineteenth-century newspapers under a variety of titles, including "Myself", "Song of a Strong Soul", "Urbs Fortitudinis", and "De Profundis" among other titles. The established title "Invictus", Latin for "unconquered” was added by editor Arthur Quiller-Couch when the poem was included in The Oxford Book of English Verse (1900). Here is the full text of the poem:

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.

Henley penned the poem to record his own path of navigating his chaos. When Henley was 16 years old, his left leg required amputation due to complications arising from tuberculosis. In the early 1870s, after seeking treatment for problems with his other leg, he was told that it would require a similar procedure. In August 1873 he chose instead to travel to Edinburgh to enlist the services of the distinguished English surgeon Joseph Lister. After multiple surgeries, Lister was able to save Henley's right leg. While recovering in the infirmary, he was moved to write the verses that became "Invictus".

In the first stanza Henley begins the poem with darkness, a common symbol of hopelessness where the soul is lost or the mind depressed. During this state one is unable to focus on anything but the pain. Anyone trying to translate their dreams into reality knows this feeling of darkness. In the third and fourth lines, however, Henley shifts from a negative tone into the positive, a technique he uses throughout his poem.

Lines three and four give thanks and declare an ‘unconquerable soul.’ In the second stanza Henley continues to employ the pendulum swing from negative to positive. He admits to some ‘circumstance,’ or terrible predicament, yet never ‘winced or cried’ about it. Amidst the chaos and bloody head, he never bowed.

In the third stanza Henley refers to the years involved with his ordeal. He admits to the ‘tears and horror of the shade’ but remains ‘unafraid.’ Henley remains unafraid because he manifests a strong belief of controlling his destiny. Despite the years of suffering, he remains steadfast in his determination.

In the fourth and final stanza Henley proclaims that, no matter what you have been through, you can overcome dark times by reminding yourself how much control you have despite the darkness. Henley navigated his chaos by remaining master of his fate and captain of his soul, and in so doing penned one of the greatest sources of inspiration used by so many in search of light in their own darkness.

  • How often do you remind yourself you have an unconquerable soul?

  • How often are you the master of your fate and captain of your soul?

  • How often have you winced or cried aloud due to circumstance?

  • How often does your head get bloody when navigating the chaos?

  • When your head is hurting, did you bow or raise it high?

  • How strait has your path in life been?

  • Has anyone in your life demonstrated that they were master of their fate and captain of their soul?


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