“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.
Some well-learned Christians I know don’t subscribe very much to this poem of
Yet, like many inspirational poems and works talking of victory against the odds, there is the countering view that all of these speak volumes for the resilience that is made known only via the power of God. We call this the activity of faith, or requiring same to succeed.
Thankfulness to the “gods”
Without casting aspersions regarding the author’s beliefs it is clear here that he is thankful for the placement, and his ownership—in the midst of darkness and despair—of his “unconquerable soul,” a thing that has not betrayed him, despite the nemesis the mind has obviously been.
We are reminded, perhaps, that the strength of our own souls is vaster than we can imagine from the more docile side of any gargantuan journey.
The Evidence of Wounding
The second quatrain speaks of the injuries and the effects; even though the harsh reality is not escaped, and though injuries continue to be known, none of these have caused the surrendering of the spirit.
This helps us understand, that in our own wounding, the story’s not finished. It only finishes when we choose to give up, though at times this is also academic, meaning that choosing to accept defeat graciously is sometimes a glorious victory all its own!
To have “not winced nor cried aloud” is not so much the denial of the pain as it is the knowledge that to give into the pain would compromise the journey. The poet has indelible knowledge of the pain. The pain is not denied.
Now the Threat of Death
Whether it’s actual physical death or the concept of some other form of ‘death’—for instance, a competitive endeavour where the risk is losing something very significant—means little in terms of this poem. The response from the protagonist is the same. They are “unafraid” because their courage has made them that way. They’ve resolved to be unafraid. Courage is vested despite fear, not in the absence of fear.
We’re tempted into many a fear ourselves, and it is our choice to give into this fear or go beyond it and challenge the reason and logic of the fear, chancing all in any event, for there’s actually little to lose. We know we cannot succeed if we’re bent over in fear, and our only chance in this dire mess is to just keep going.
God’s Making the Impossible, Possible Again
The narrowness of our chances of success and the record of our numerous failures matters less if we know our capacity and have faith in our capabilities. And then too we are blessed to have the confidence to extend our capacities and capabilities.
Being the masters of our fates and the captains of our souls is not so much relegating God to second place as it is agreeing with God that his power is vested in us via faith.
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.