Friday, August 2, 2013

Memorization Test: Invictus

As part of my pursuit for mental strength I've taken to doing a weekly memorization challenge. I'm starting with poetry because the meter and rhythm makes it easier to remember. Later I might go on to prose, which I find can be entirely more difficult. The point is to memorize at least twenty lines weekly. Learning to improve the memory is an intensely valuable ability when trying to sharpen the mind so I hope that these memorization tests will help me in my journey to manhood.

On Fridays I make a selection for the new week and each Thursday I test myself to see if I've successfully completed my goal.

If you'd like, you can follow along and take on these memorization challenges too, or you can find your own poems. I know at least for me it's easier to memorize words I believe in.

This first poem is called Invictus, written in 1875 by William Ernest Henley. Invictus is latin for "unconquerable" and the poem really resonates with me because it highlights one of the strongest traits of humanity: the power we have to choose our outlook on any situation. No matter how "charged with punishments the scroll" we can break the chains of our circumstance.

I also enjoy this poem because the words don't fall flat; the author had the chops to pen them sincerely. Henley had his leg amputated at 18 and the doctors insisted they needed to amputate his other leg in order to save his life from tuberculosis. Refusing the diagnosis, Henley's life was spent in hospitals trying to overcome the illness through various painful surgeries. Notwithstanding, he completed law school and went on to become editor of the Scots Observer in Scotland.

Fun fact: Robert Louis Stevenson was so moved by the courage of the maimed William Henley that he based a character off of him in Treasure Island. Perhaps you've heard of Long John Silver? Through this character and the life of this, his most famous poem, Henley is deceased but not forgotten.


"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."

-William Ernest Henley 1875