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.
The movie never defines the meaning of the title, Invictus. In fact, everyone I asked who saw the film had no idea what “Invictus” meant. They only knew how the words of the poem made them feel. Inspired, empowered and propelled to action. The title means “unconquered.” In the movie, Invictus, Nelson Mandela, in his first term as the South African President, initiated a unique venture to unite the apartheid-torn land: enlist the losing national rugby team on a mission to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Mandela was held for nearly 26 years on Robben Island as a political prisoner. His release marked the end of apartheid in South Africa. Mandela’s amazing tenacity is the stuff of heroes and legends, the stuff of ordinary people who survive extraordinary challenges with grace and dignity. He had inspiration, the poem “Invictus” which kept his spirits up in his place of “wrath and tears” in the “horror of the shade.”
Francois Pienaar, the captain of the losing South African Springboks rugby team, understood that kind of inspiration for he too recited a special song before each match. “How do you inspire a nation…” Mandela implored him. “How do you make them believe against all odds? The final match, between the undefeated New Zealand team and the Springboks, resulted in a South African win of 15-12. How do you inspire a nation? How do you make them believe? You recite over and over again as Nelson Mandela did, “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” Deliver.