I was introduced to the poetry of William Ernest Henley (1849 – 1903) in the spring of 2011, and Invictus instantly captivated me. The text is visceral, bold, and universally relevant, and it lent itself wonderfully to a choral setting. In many places, the piece felt like it was writing itself; it felt like I was discovering something as I was creating it.
I was further inspired when I studied the historical context of this text. William Ernest Henley fought a lifelong battle for his health, contracting tuberculosis of the bones as a child that necessitated the amputation of his left leg below the knee. When the disease later spread to his other leg and his doctors insisted on removing it as well, Henley challenged their diagnosis and sought a second opinion. His pursuit led him to meet Dr. Joseph Lester, a pioneer in the development of antiseptic surgery. After an arduous twenty-month hospital stay at the In Hospital. It was there he penned his most famous work, Invictus (Latin for “invincible,” or “unconquerable”).
him. Friends described him as a radiant, larger-than-life-character, with a great red beard, clever wit, and “a laugh that rolled like music.” 19th-century poetry critic Arthur Symons wrote, “Mr. Henley, [out] of all the poets of the day, is the most strenuously certain that life is worth living, the
His zeal for life and self-determinacy is so brilliantly expressed in his Invictus, and it is my hope that this spirit and ideal may continue to inspire and embolden as it is expressed through this piece.