Songs and poems have the ability to express beliefs, feelings, and beauty that the author wishes the reader to experience. They are sometimes lyrical and sometimes they are not, but every poem and song holds some forms of rhetorical devices, often seen in creative style, such as alliteration, zeugma, metaphor, simile, hyperbole, and many more. The creative style includes more rhetorical devices than the official style or plain style. So I chose my favorite poem “Invictus”, by William Ernest Henley. I will be analyzing some rhetorical devices to investigate why they were so powerful in the poem. There is much to learn about “Invictus” by deciphering its metaphors and use of parallelism. These rhetorical devices affect how the activity systems, surrounding this poem, interpret the content.
At a young age, Henley contracted tuberculosis of the bone. The doctors had to remove his leg up to the knee at the age of 17. After the first amputation, the doctors informed him that they would have to perform another surgery on the other leg. Determined not to do this, Henley enlisted the help of another doctor, who was able to save his foot by doing a few intense surgeries. It was while he was in recovery Henley wrote “Invictus,” which in Latin means unconquerable, invincible, and undefeated. Through the suffering and pain of his first amputation, he was unwilling to be conquered by his grief and anger. He overcame all obstacles and determined his own fate by finding the doctor willing to save Henley’s other leg.
In Henley’s poem, he used many rhetorical devices to interpret his feelings during this hard time in his life. This includes the use of metaphor, which is seen in many places in this poem. Metaphor creates imagery, which is important for the reader to see how the poet interprets an idea. In the first line, the use doesn’t just mean the darkness of night, but “night” represents the suffering of any kind. Another example is “In the fell clutch of circumstance,” this line compares a creature (fell clutch) with a deadly grip to the circumstance the person is in. “The horror of the shade” is a metaphor for death looming around us all. “Menace of the years,” is a metaphor for advancing age, which death looms just around the corner for. “Bludgeoning of chance,” could also be a metaphor for Henley believing the contraction of tuberculosis was his fate. Without metaphors in creative style, the feelings could be lost between what the author wants and how the readers to feel.
Along with the importance of metaphor in this poem, I found the last two lines to be the most dramatic of all the lines in the poem. This is due to the use of parallelism, which is the repetition of sentence structures or word orders to achieve a rhythmical effect. This is important in poetry, so the thoughts of these parts expressed are repeated or contrasted. The last two lines of the poem, “I am the master of my fate/ I am the captain of my soul” effectively repeats the sentence structure, but it also gets Henley’s point across more dramatically. By repeating the same structure and switching the words, creates a strong message that even though fate handed many punishments he is still unwilling to let his soul be conquered, or that he still remains in control of his destiny despite his disability.
Rhetorical devices are important in any piece, but what also needs to be determined is the activity systems that surround this poem and how they interpret the meanings. The activity systems that revolve around this poem could be average people who want to be in control of their fate. It also includes teachers who wish to teach their students a lesson, and the author who wrote this poem and their reasoning behind it. The activity systems might also include the sick, the disabled, the hungry, the torn and many more. There are also the people who critique poems and they usually find something negative to dwell on. There are many systems to investigate, but I will be looking at a few of these systems. In the previous paragraphs, I looked at Henley’s reason for writing the poem. Now, I will be looking at the people reading this poem for boost in morale and the critics.
Despite the suffering that is occurring in this poem, the theme of “invictus” appeals to most people. It is the simple idea that you are in control of your own fate. I think that is why I was so drawn to it in the first place. We are in a world that doesn’t really care about us. However, there is still hope that we can overcome all the obstacles and be the masters of our own fate. We can still be in control of what happens to us and despite everything our soul will remain unconquerable. This is the same for Henley. Instead of succumbing to defeat he rose up and challenged the doctors that told him he was going to lose the other foot. He did not give up.
However, there are many critics who ridicule this poem as being mediocre. Most modern anthologies won’t even allow this poem into their pages. One reason is its rhythmical tone. Musicality wasn’t used very much in the Victorian age, and Henley faced off against poets such as Edgar Allen Poe, Lord Alfred Tennyson, and William Wordsworth. These poets didn’t use much lyrical devices as Henley did. Even though there was some discretion among the critics, this poem still remains one of the more quotable poems today. It helps that this poem isn’t abstract compared to the poets who load their verses with a lot of ambiguity. So this poem lives up to its name. Despite all the critiques and punishments “on the scroll,” this poem remains.
Through metaphor and parallelism, Henley was able to successfully convey his thoughts and feelings to create a poem that inspired the average person to never give up and to be in control of their own fate. It is a poem written in creative style that uses rhyme to create a poem that invokes beauty and song. The activity systems that revolve around this poem either love it or hate it, but it is still one of the most quoted poems to this day. Despite all the obstacles Henley went through, he was able to overcome all and create a successful poem that millions of people enjoy today.
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.