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. The first stanza represents a prayer that takes place in the dark by the speaker of the poem. In this prayer, he is thanking “whatever gods may be” for his unconquerable soul, which infers the possible darkness of despair. The speaker, however, is not praying for strength but giving thanks to the strength he already has. On the other hand, he seems rather dismissive about who he is praying to and portrays agnosticism.
In the fell clutch of circumstance I have not winced nor cried aloud. Under the bludgeonings of chance My head is bloody, but unbowed. The agnosticism continues into the second stanza due to not mentioning anything about God’s will for him, or his fate. Instead, he uses “In the fell clutch of circumstance” to mean he is being cruelly caught as prey in the claws of life at its most unpredictable moments. Bludgeoning has the definition of being beaten or forced down, and Henley uses this to depict a very powerful message of inner strength.
This certain strength that is presented includes the ability to conquer the troubles of life even if someone is beaten down. 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. In the third stanza, the speaker introduces his feelings of the afterlife, and that he believes it does not exist. In fact, in this part of the poem he explains that death is merely an escape from this life, and an end to the suffering. He is not concerned about what happens after death, and he epresents that by not being worried about the end. 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. This last stanza is a major contributor to the fame of this poem, given that these last few lines hold the greatest meaning and the main message. NEW ENTRY—By mentioning, “It matters not how strait the gate” the writer is referring to his struggles with, literally, walking (due to his tubercular arthritis and amputation of his left leg below the knee and mutated foot).
Do not be confused by the current understanding of the definition of “gate,” being a wall or fence. The author is referring to what we currently understand as the definition of “gait”. The Etymology of the word “gait” comes from the Middle English word “gate,” deriving from the Old English word “geat,” all meaning a manner in which to walk, or a path. Gate This spelling was still commonly used in the 18th and 19th century especially in British literature though today we can understand the definition to be what we know as “gait”.
Considering Henley’s medical conditions, it is clear the he intended this line to mean its literal translation, “it matters not how [difficult] the [manner of walking on foot]” PREVIOUS ENTRY—By mentioning “It matters not how strait the gate,” the speaker makes a reference to John Bunyan’s The Strait Gate or Great Difficulty of going to Heaven by accepting whatever judgment, or doom, death may bring. He is, in fact, his own god, guide and judge. He is the Captain.  NEW ENTRY — Although arguable, the previous entry would nullify Henley’s lines in his first stanza “I thank whatever gods may be. He clearly does not ascribe to a religion so his referring to a Biblically inspired literature would be inconsistent. The analysis of this poem depicts Henley’s life, and represents the moments of pain and struggle that created many obstacles for him. Although he did indeed face many challenges, in time, he realized he was the sole controller of his fate. By writing this poem, he conveyed a message with bravery and perseverance, which he applied to his own life as well. Through Invictus, Henley demonstrated the message of determination, courage and the will to survive.