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.
~ William Ernest Henley, Book of Verses, 1888
Arguably William Ernest Henley’s best-remembered work is the above poem, which inspired Nelson Mandela during his 27 years in prison, and which gives the film Invictus its title. In the movie Mandela gives the poem—as a metaphor for never giving up—to François Pienaar, the captain of the South African rugby team, before the start of the 1995 Rugby World Cup, when the Springboks, widely assumed to stand a snowball’s chance in hell against the New Zeeland All Blacks and their superstar winger Jonah Lomu, created one of the greatest upsets in recent sporting history.
As a matter of fact, Clint Eastwood’s Invictus, which I recently had the pleasure of seeing, tells you many things about Nelson Mandela (played with gravity and grace by Morgan Freeman), since “it is predominantly an absorbing character study of one of the most extraordinary characters of our time,” but it wisely does not attempt to tell Mandela’s whole life story. Though, according to some critics, “the trouble with Invictus is that it is more monument than motion picture,” I thoroughly enjoyed it and highly recommend it to anyone.
In the video below, the real François Pienaar recalls the impact that Nelson Mandela had on the historic 1995 RWC victory.