After watching "Invictus," I got all teary and not because of the movie (though I did cry during "Princess and the Frog," but that's another story altogether).
It just so happens that the poem which inspired the title (and Mandela, apparently) was my mother's favorite poem. She told me when she was in high school, the teacher's made her memorize a poem, and she had picked "Invictus," though she said it held no particular emotional sway with her at the time. Perhaps she just thought it sounded cool. In any case, she memorized it and then late, when life indeed gave her more challenges than most... challenges of health problems that plagued her most of her adult life and which nearly killed her several times over, be it by stroke, heart attack and coma... which robbed her of her ability to walk without pain... .she said she was glad that she had memorized the thing way back when and that it did indeed come in handy.
At that time, I was about 14 or so, I was on a poetry kick and decided to memorize it too... and when in my life I'd come across serious adversity, maybe not as serious as the kind my mother had endured -- until dealing with her death a year and a half ago, that is -- I'd always thought it was a most remarkable string of words. Inspirational, strong, determined and steadfast.
"Invictus" was written by William Ernst Henley, a victim of tuberculosis of the bone. A few years later, while a teenager, the disease progressed in his foot and he had to have his foot amputated directly below the knee. In spite of this, in 1867 he successfully passed the Oxford local examination as a senior student. He wrote "Invictus" from a hospital bed in 1875. Despite his disability, he persevered with one foot intact, leading an active life, and died at the age of 53.
No poem could be more appropriate for my mother, who could barely walk, when she went back to school to get her Bachelor's of Science in her early 40's. She continued and got her Master's of Science in clinical psychology from Cal State University Northridge and went on to intern at Camarillo hospital, helping disturbed teens and then opened up a practice in Westport, CT where she also had her own talk psychology radio show. She specialized in women empowering themselves and gave assertiveness training sessions. She died not that much older than William Ernst Henley, finally succumbing to the diseases that tried to overcome her most of her life.
I wonder if she thought of "Invictus" when she lay in her hospital bed, at the moment she knew she would die.
After she passed, it was the first thing that came into my head.
Any movie called "Invictus," based on that particular poem -- is a winner to me.
By the way, here's 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.