Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Infirmus: A Recasting of Henley's Invictus

The following famous poem is by William Ernest Henley called Invictus (Latin for 'unconquerable' or 'undefeated') I will share it here before proceeding.

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.

In reading again William Ernest Henley’s poem Invictus, I was at once in marvel at the raw brilliancy of the poem—powerful, emotive, and an expression of the resilient human spirit in its fierce and mesmerizing autonomy. Yet at the same time, not to slight the plight of health and sincere expression of Henley that arose from this state, I was struck by how false I perceived the poem to be—I am the master of my fate / I am the captain of my soul.

These words have the illusion of truth, and they resonate because they touch something at the core of us, but they only touch upon a fragment of the truth whilst missing the point completely. These very lines above all, and the entire poem upon closer inspection, seemed to embody the complete antithesis of the Truth which is revealed in the Scriptures, and which flips human rationale on its head (or on its feet, as it flips a disordered thinking the right way up!) —and the truth is this: that true nobleness, power and glory resides not in the triumphalism of human strength over weakness, but in human weakness yielded to God, which because of the Incarnation and Redemption of Christ on the Cross, has become the locus for divine transcendence. An indwelling or habitation, if you will, for the Divine Glory, Strength, and Power; as opposed to a stepping stone to mere human conquering which may have its day, and can speak fine heroic words, but which is ultimately vain as it will perish in the grave.

It is true that having free will, and thus the power to choose, we are in some ways the masters of our fate and the captains of our souls. Yet not really, because we are creatures, and therefore contingent beings upon a higher power—and so such mastery is mere illusion at best. It is conditional, and therefore not true mastery at all. After all, we are not gods, but are vulnerable creatures prone to sickness, deception, and death, which one fell swoop of mother nature can crush at the blink of an eye. So much for gods.

The very notion that freedom and autonomy is fulfilled by means of asserting our mastery, and taking the helm of the ship of our soul as its captains, is perhaps the greatest lie of all. A lie which Satan fed to Eve so long ago, and which he perpetuates to this day. Since if we are creatures with a mastery which is illusionary and subject to stronger forces which can rip the wheel from our hands and toss us about, to and fro, eventually unto the grave; then asserting this mastery by becoming the captain of our souls will bestow no more than a contingent, temporary and imperfect freedom and autonomy—a freedom and autonomy subject itself, to at the very last, sink in the final storm.

Thus in the truest sense, this isn’t freedom or autonomy at all. For a finite and limited captain cannot steer a ship into infinite and unlimited horizons. He can try, but he'll die trying in vain. An infinite and unlimited captain is needed for this—and by yielding oneself, one’s ship, to such a captain, one will sail on the waters of true and unbounded liberty, and will be truly autonomous, because one’s free will which is limited in its scope of realisation, once yielded to this captain, will share and acquire the limitless scope of this captain’s unbounded will. This captain is none other than God Himself, and happy is the soul who freely bows her head to His mastery, the mastery of His Divine Will, which sets one free, simply at the cost of pride—a brilliant price to pay.

The following poem adopts the form of Henley's Invictus, and not so much parodies but recasts his poem as it were in the Light of the Gospel. The poem, titled Infirmus, is inferior to Henley's, but it rings more true.

***

Within this night that covers me,
      Dark as cavernous Pluto’s pole,
I thank my God—sweet loving He,
      For frail my vulnerable soul.

On stage where plays the vehement scenes
      I’ve stood bold, trembled, cried aloud.
Under the thorny crown and beams,
      My head bloody, but freely bowed.

Beyond this field of tears and shame
      Shines through the pain an untouched dawn.
And thus the years like moon that wane,
      I gladly welcome as the morn.

It matters not how thin the gate,
      How black with sins that judging scroll;
I’ve yielded up to Him my fate,
      He is the captain of my soul.


15/02/2017