The Word on the Week


The Latin word for ‘unconquered’ was the title given to the poem by the author’s editor. The poem was written 140 years ago, by William Ernest Henley. It runs to four stanzas and has survived because it is so quotable portraying, as it does, the indomitable human spirit. It caught my eye this week when the last two lines appeared in the press at the end of someone’s obituary.

“I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.”

The fact that it is completely untrue does not entirely rob us of a moment of pride. We like the thought that we can take it on the chin. We can deal with whatever fortune throws at us. The idea that we are able to handle it – no matter how hard the particular ‘it’ becomes strokes our ego. It resonates with the human psyche to want to be in control, both of ourselves and of others.

There is an irony in it appearing in the obituary column. We may make all the necessary arrangements concerning our mortal remains but our eternal destiny lies in the hands of another. Perhaps it was the impenetrableness of what lies beyond the grave that made Henley pen the line in the third stanza: –

“Looms but the Horror of the shade.”

The poet had no Muse to take him beyond the darkness. He claims to be unafraid. He does not care how narrow the gate is or how long is the list of his crimes. He reckons that he is in command of his body and soul.

But his confidence does not seem to be well founded relying as it does on his record of enduring, despite his problems, and taking pride on his ability to survive on his own without help.

Perhaps Scripture would locate him as a member of the Laodicean Church! They were self-sufficient and doing fine without God.

The divine verdict was that they were wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked. They were oblivious to all this. They had to be told.

They then realised they had no resources of their own.

The remedy was to be refined like gold to remove the dross; receive the garments of righteousness and have their eyes opened to see Jesus.

Then for those who recognise their need of him comes the promise of food and fellowship on an individual basis. Those who hear Jesus words and respond will find in him the captain of their soul for time and eternity (Revelation Chapter 3 Verses 17-20).