"I thank whatever gods may be, for my unconquerable soul."
By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here
Victorian poet William Ernest Henley (1849 – 1903) developed tuberculosis of the bone as a young boy. Due to complications from the disease, Henley required long stays in the hospital and the eventual amputation of his left leg to save his life. When the disease spread to his other leg, he spent three years in the hospital. It was during this time that Henley wrote the poem "Invictus."
"Invictus" is William Ernest Henley's song of defiance. Against death, against fate, against the very will of his body. In South Africa, Nelson Mandela (1918 – 2013) used William Ernest Henley's "Invictus" as a statement of courage against oppression.
Maya Angelou (1928 – 2014) was an American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist. Mostly self-educated, she grew a love for poetry as a means of overcoming childhood trauma and abuse. In 1976, Maya Angelou wrote "Still I Rise" as her statement of defiance.
Seamlessly blended excerpts from both works, with my own personal reflections:
In spite of the ever looming presence of death, in spite of misfortune than can render me "black as the pit from pole to pole," I will not lose spirit. And I thank "whatever gods may be" for instilling in me the spirit of defiance.
Still I Rise
It's natural for humans to rise against bonds of subjugation. As long as there is life, there is hope. With the same certainty of the tides, I will rise.
I can't control all circumstances, but I can control my responses. And it's going to sting. Like an animal caged by chance, I may escape, but I will not go unscathed. Yes, it is not my fault, it is not fair, I am a victim of fate, but none of that matters, it is what I do from here — that is what matters. You will not see me cry.
What did you expect? How else should I act? Did you think I'd break so easily? You will not see me cry.
Even if things get worse from here, even if my physical body grows weak with age, my spirit will remain unafraid — for what is here now, and what is still yet to come. Though I may change, the spirit will not.
I will survive the test. I know you have plenty. But I will keep overcoming. Because, unlike you, I am not doing this for novel cruelty. I will rise because I have to. I must triumph. I must.
My will refuses to bend. No matter the restrictions, no matter the judgments, I will make it. I decide my own fate. I steer my own course.
Perhaps it is not in spite of our limitations; perhaps some of us draw strength from our limitations. Rather than limits being the furthest point we can go, we will defy our limitations. We will not shrink into the night.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.