INVICTUS


Friday 24 June 2011: 4 years 9 months on … Game ED!

INVICTUS

(from the Latin meaning Undefeated or Unconquered)

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.

English poet:  William Ernest Henley (1849–1903)

At the age of 12, Henley fell victim to tuberculosis of the bone. A few years later, the disease progressed to his foot, and physicians announced that the only way to save his life was to amputate directly below the knee. It was amputated when he was 17. Stoicism inspired him to write this poem. Despite his disability, he survived with one foot intact and led an active life until his death at the age of 53.

The poem was written in 1875 in a book called Book of Verses, where it was number four in several poems called Life and Death (Echoes). At the beginning it bore no title. Early printings contained only the dedication To R. T. H. B.—a reference to Robert Thomas Hamilton Bruce (1846–1899), a successful Scottish flour merchant and baker who was also a literary patron. The title “Invictus” (Latin for “unconquered”) was put in the Oxford Book of Verse by Arthur Quiller-Couch. 

The poem has Influenced the arts ever since.

In the 1942 film Casablanca, Captain Renault, a corrupt official played by Claude Rains recites the last two lines of the poem when talking to Rick Blaine, played by Humphrey Bogart, referring to his power in Casablanca. The irony in the reference is that the theme of the poem refers to self-mastery, when in fact all of Renault’s power in Casablanca is merely granted.

In the 1945 film Kings Row, Parris Mitchell, a psychiatrist played by Robert Cummings, recites part of “Invictus” to his friend Drake McHugh, played by Ronald Reagan, before revealing to Drake that his legs were unnecessarily amputated by a cruel doctor.

While incarcerated on Robben Island prison, Nelson Mandela recited the poem to other prisoners and was empowered by its message of self mastery.

The poem was used in a voice-over by Lucas Scott in the television series, One Tree Hill.

Canadian poet and singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen recited the poem as an introduction to his own song “The Darkness”, during a couple of shows on his 2010 world tour, most notably at his State Kremlin Palace show.

In Napoleon Hill’s book, Think And Grow Rich, this poem is quoted and discussed. Hill added that, we are master and captain, “ . . . because we have the power to control our thoughts”. We are warned that this “power”, alluded to in Henley’s poem, “ . . . makes no attempt to discriminate between destructive thoughts and constructive thoughts”. Napoleon Hill explains that the conscious choice is laid upon the individual and suggests that the poet left others to, “. . . interpret the philosophical meaning of his lines”.

The poem was important to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, who recited it on the day of his execution.

Novelist Jeffrey Archer quoted the poem in the first volume of his A Prison Diary series ‘Hell’ which recounted his time inside HMP Belmarsh.

“Invictus” is also a 2009 biographical sports drama film directed by Clint Eastwood starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon.

The story is based on the John Carlin book Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Changed a Nation about the events in South Africa before and during the 1995 Rugby World Cup, hosted here following the dismantling of apartheid. Freeman and Damon play, respectively, South African President Nelson Mandela  and Francois Pienaar, the captain of the South African rugby team, the Springboks. (1)

The 1995 Rugby World Cup Final was played between the Springboks and the New Zealand All Blacks at Ellis Park in Johannesburg exactly 16 years ago today on Saturday 24 June 1995.

For three weeks, prior to this big day, we had lived through World Cup euphoria (something similar, although not quite as big, as last year’s Football World Cup).

Together with friends and family, we had planned a day of festivities around the Final and which would culminate in that South African tradition of all traditions, the all-important braai!

Well, we never got to participate in the events planned for the day.

Pera was six months pregnant and due at the end of September 1995. (We previously lost a second son who had been still-born in November 1994.) Early on the morning of the Final, I woke up to hear her screaming in the kitchen. The baby (at 26 weeks) was threatening to come out and I rushed her to St George’sHospital, where we spent the rest of that day. The doctors managed to prevent the birth, Pera remained in hospital and late that evening I drove up Cape Road on my way home.

Everywhere, the fires were burning, people were partying in the street and ecstasy, excitement and exhilaration pervaded the country. We had beaten the All Blacks 15 points to 12 and the World Cup was ours – the rugby kings of the World! (To this day, I have never watched THAT game in its entirety, but, of course, I have many times seen the photograph of THAT drop goal that sealed the game in our favour and which hangs in just about every boardroom and pub in this country!)

It was a tremendous boost for our fragile new democracy born in 1994 and barely one year old!

But talking about births … for the next two weeks, the baby threatened to be born. On the night of 6 July, with Pera’s gynaecologist, Dr Caras Ferreira, out of town, Dr Ivan Berkowitz was hurriedly called from a formal dinner to St George’s Hospital when, once again, it was touch and go. He arrived at midnight in his tuxedo and bow-tie.

(I knew Ivan and Harriet well, and we have remained friends to this day.

Ten years prior to this, in June/July 1985, the Grey First Eleven went on the first Grey overseas cricket tour to England and Holland. Darryl Berkowitz was Headboy of Grey in that year and a member of the touring team that I accompanied, together with Rod McCleland, Keith Crankshaw, Dickie Ogilvie, Neil Thomson and Charles Pautz. We sold tickets for that dreaded VW Golf and raised funds together with the Berks (and all the other parents) and also had our return party at their home in Conyngham Street.

It was so good to meet up with many of the members of that touring team at last year’s and this year’s 25th Reunions at the school. And, as I write this, the Grey cricket team is once again touring England. We wish them good luck and happy travelling!)

Anyway, Ivan explained that Pera would have to remain in hospital for the rest of her pregnancy, and that if he did not deliver the baby soon, we would lose either Pera or the baby.

And, so it was, on the next morning, Friday 7 July 1995, sixteen years ago, that our second son (and we had previously been told by the gynaecologist to expect a girl) was born by caesarean section at twenty seven weeks and weighing 1,3 kg. Our previous son was due to be called Phillip, so this baby was named Phillip John. He spent the next two months in the incubator at the hospital, and cost the medical aid about double the price of our very first house that I had bought!

Phillip John Lunnon (our Dr Phil!) celebrates his sixteenth birthday in two week’s time. Now, at six feet and three inches, he is the tallest in the family, beating me at six feet and Sean at six feet and two inches!

He is our fighter – our very own Invictus.

There have been times that I did not think that I would make it to his sixteenth birthday but I, too, am a fighter.

I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

[ (1) From Wikipedia]

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2 comments on “INVICTUS

  1. One of the greatest men of this century and of the last century is now removed from this world to the next. The civilized world grieves the death of a truly gracious, dignified and charismatic leader. A social leader, a political leader, a moral leader and a spiritual beacon. Now he now belongs to the ages.

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