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Captain of My Soul

In 1875, a relatively unknown poet penned the words that would cement his place in literary history. William Ernest Henley, recovering from an amputation, wrote the poem that would become known as InvictusPublished without title in 1888, its final stanza still echoes well over a century later.

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 famous philosopher Oscar Wilde wrote the following letter 9 years later after being imprisoned for “gross indecency.” I wonder if Henley’s poem was reverberating in his mind when he wrote it:

The gods had given me almost everything. I had genius, a distinguished name, high social position, brilliancy, intellectual daring: I made art a philosophy, and philosophy an art: I altered the minds of men and the color of things: There was nothing I said or did that did not make people wonder…

Tired of being on the heights I deliberately went to the depths in search for new sensations. What the paradox was to me in the sphere of thought, perversity became to me in the sphere of passion. Desire, at the end, was a malady, or a madness, or both. I grew careless of the lives of others. I took pleasure where it pleased me and passed on. I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character, and that therefore what one has done in the secret chamber one has some day to cry aloud on the housetops… I was no longer the captain of my soul, and did not know it. I ended in horrible disgrace.”1

Wilde discovered that taking control of one’s own soul means removing it from the hands of the only capable pilot. What initially seemed like stunning levels of autonomy and freedom became disaster when the currents of his fallen nature led him into unsafe waters – ending in shipwreck.2

“But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”3

P.S.4


  1. De Profundis – “From the Depths” []
  2. I Timothy 1:19 (NLT) “Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked.” []
  3. James 1:14-15 []
  4. I came so close to naming this post, “Jesus Take the Wheel,” but I just couldn’t… []

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