When I was a teenager in junior high school, I was working on a poetry project for a literature class when I came across a poem that was a response to another poem.
It was so interesting to me to realize that a poet could argue with another poet across place and time without ever meeting the other poet in person—especially because I liked both of the poems. I ended up including them both in my project.
The first poem was “Invictus”, a Victorian-era work by an English poet written in 1875 and published in 1888.
The second poem was “The Soul’s Captain”, a Progressive-era work by a Western American poet published in 1926.
by William Ernest Henley
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.
The Soul’s Captain
by Orson F. Whitney
Art thou in truth the master of thy fate?
The captain of thy soul?
Then what of him
who bought thee with his blood?
Who plunged into devouring seas
and snatched thee from the raging flood?
Who bore for all our fallen race
what none but him could bear—
the God who died that man might live,
and endless glory share?
Of what avail thy vaunted strength,
Apart from his vast might?
Pray that his Light
may pierce the gloom,
that thou might see aright.
Men are as bubbles on the wave,
as leaves upon the tree,
O’ captain of thy soul, explain!
Who gave that place to thee?
Free will is thine—free agency,
To wield for right or wrong;
But thou must answer unto him
To whom all souls belong.
Bend to the dust thy head “unbowed,”
small part of Life’s great whole!
And see in him, and him alone,
The Captain of thy soul.