Nelson Mandela’s Favorite Poem
Since the passing of Nelson Mandela a few days ago, I have reflected upon his life and thought about what I can share with you to honor his memory and learn from his journey. I think there is nothing more appropriate than to share his favorite poem.
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.
Written By William Ernest Henley
Invictus means unconquered in Latin. Why was this Mandela’s favorite poem?
In his mid forties, Mr. Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years for his opposition and activism against Apartheid (in the Afrikanns* language, meaning the state of being apart) – South Africa’s segregation policy instituted after WWII. It is said that when Mandela’s spirit was low and he was feeling despair during his long prison sentence, he would recite this poem which he had committed to memory.
On February 11, 1990, holding his wife’s hand, he walked out of prison.
On May 10, 1994, he was sworn in as President of South Africa.
What the world seems to admire most about this man was not his tenacity to desegregate South Africa, but his ability to forgive. His jailors sitting in the front row of his presidential inauguration encapsulated how he felt and acted toward his oppressors. He looked beyond the decades of injustice and allowed compassion to win over resentment. People who knew him and worked with him rarely talk about his politics. They talk about who he was as a man. They talk about the depth of his character and radiance of his values.
As I reflect upon the passing of this great man, I not only offer my deepest condolences to the people of South Africa and the family of Nelson Mandela but also gratitude for gifting the world with a man who gave us a beautiful portrait of what we can all aspire to be:
*Note: The language Afrikaans, along with English, was the official language of the Apartheid regime. A daughter language of Dutch, Afrikaans is now one of eleven official languages spoken by 13.5% of the country.