I just heard about a movie called Invictus.

Featuring Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman, it’s about a rugby match between South Africa and New Zealand.

Freeman plays Nelson Mandela, the South African anti-apartheid activist who spent 27 years in prison before becoming the President of South Africa.

Invictus is an appropriate word to describe Mandela.

Invictus is Latin for “unconquered.” In his nearly 100 years, Mandela survived persecution, assaults, and setbacks that would have defeated a lesser spirit. He probably knew and appreciate the poem by William Ernest Henley that begins

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.

Back when I was in high school, struggling against parents, teachers, and peers who were trying to force me into a mold against my nature, I loved Henley’s poem “Invictus.” I memorized it and recited it every morning to give me courage for the day.

It’s been many years since I’ve thought of the poem. Reading it now I feel rather sad, knowing that I didn’t manage to escape the mold after all.

Still, it’s a great poem that deserves to be known. Read the plain version first. If any of the words are unfamiliar, see the annotated version (with definitions).

Invictus (plain)

Invictus (with definitions)

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