Invictus Poem: the Unconquerable Henley

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Updated: Mar 23, 2021
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No one on this earth has gone through life without an obstacle being thrown at them. It’s a natural part of life, but you should never give up on life no matter what happens. William Ernest Henley followed this motto with everything he did. He wrote a well known poem titled “Invictus”. Invictus means undefeated in Latin (Dictionary) and what a great word for this poem. Henley displayed true courage and bravery by continuing to move forward in hard times. In this poem Henley used many literary techniques from allusions to figurative language to movement but his top three techniques were diction, imagery, and syntax. Using those three things he really conveyed the theme no matter your circumstances never give up.

Word choice in a poem can be so important. In the poem Invictus Henley used many different words to portray the theme of perseverance. In the poem he uses the word ‘night”, night is used to describe a darkness or despair. With his using this small but significant word he shows how you can make it through anything no matter how dark it gets. Henley also uses the phrase in line nine “Beyond this place of wrath and tears” meaning even though he is surrounded by negativity he will not let that get to him. He also stated in line eleven “And yet i am a menace of the years”showing us that even with age, there is strength. By using different words Henley allowed us to connect with but challenge us to understand what he was saying. Henley’s diction was perfect for this poem and just one of the few aspects that make “Invictus” so great. Along with diction he also used great imagery within the poem.

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Throughout this poem Henley used imagery several times. Imagery can connect with an audience like nothing else can, that is why i think this poem is so powerful. Henley stated in line two of his poem he says “black as the pit from pole to pole”, John Ross states “ is a basic way of likening the darkness (or the difficulty) of the night to the lightless, deep desolation of the center of the earth, and its meaning does not require any change as understanding of the poem changes.”, Ross means that when Henley said from pole to pole he did not even need to explain it. We could just picture a whole stretching from the North to South pole and being as bad as the “pit” of hell itself. By using that he showed us how much pain he was suffering from. Henley also used imagery in line ten of his poem, he wrote “looms but the horror of the shade” which is terrifying in a way. A loom is a large shadowy threatening figure and when he says horror of the shade he means death (dictionary). So when he said this you can really feel the fear and anxiousness he was feeling. It is amazing on what he can make you see just by reading it. Henley was a very intelligent man who knew hot to convey a message only by using words, but he was also did it in invictus but just the way he set up his lines.

The whole idea of invictus was to teach readers to be strong and unconquerable and he used his words and syntax to do that. A syntax can tell you show much about what the author is trying to say. Lumen stated that “ Writing with variety can make your writing distinctive and interesting. This can be achieved by using varied syntax, or sentence structure.” This shows why Henley did this because he knew using this would make his work more interesting and give it great variety. When you read Invictus you may not see this the first or even second time you read it, but Henley started off each stanza on a negative or down note but ended in a positive way. By doing this is just reminds us again of his theme, you should never give up and also be strong in hard times because they will always end on a high. You could also learn from it and be a better person in the end. For example, in stanza two the first two lines read “In the fell clutch of circumstance I have not winced nor cried aloud.” He is talking about how he has not cried even though his situation is not the best but then later follows with “under the bludgeonings of chance my head is bloody, but unbowed”. Henley expressed that even though life was beating him down he still would stand tall and would keep pushing forward. Henley’s syntax in this poem is what i believe to be his strongest literary technique he used to express his tone and theme.

William Henley used such great poet. He was able to use so many literary techniques to portray his theme and really connect with his audience. He made it nearly impossible for someone to read this and not be touched by what he had went through and experienced. He showed us that we can make it through anything. He overcame so many things throughout his childhood and adulthood so what better theme for him to share with us. He stayed strong and became the great writer he was. I believe he followed the meaning of invictus through his whole life. Henley was truly unconquerable.

Works Cited

  1. Boundless. “Boundless Writing.” Lumen,
  2. “Invictus.”,,
  3. Jwacky. “Invictus Explained.” Invictus Explained,
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Invictus Poem: the Unconquerable Henley. (2021, Mar 23). Retrieved from