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Can you give an analysis of William Ernest Henley’s poem, “Invictus”?
I can — and will! But let me begin with three disclaimers.I think Jan Špenko did a lot of excellent things with this poem already, and I intend this reading to be supplementary or complementary, and absolutely not as any kind of supersession. Indeed, if I omit things Jan includes, it is in the knowledge that Jan already discussed them. If I repeat an idea, it is because it is important to the way I want to approach the poem here, and for what ends.I confess that this has never been a favorite poem of mine; it strikes me as too anthemic, and therefore too much like doggerel. It seems to come with a built-in soundtrack of swelling strings. But that does not mean I cannot or will not offer a close analysis of it. I will indicate where I think the poet is being, for lack of a better term, unpoetic — but that is to be construed as a critical assessment, not an attack on anyone’s taste whatsoever. The very word criticism comes from the Greek word kritos, “judge.”Let me simply remark, for the feckless undergraduate who might pass this way, that this is a homework question, but one asked in good faith, and because asked in good faith by two fine people, and therefore answered in good faith too. Any teacher doing what is, in the internet age, due diligence knows that Google searches expose plagiarists. Caveat fur.“Invictus” — which means “unconquered” in Latin — was written by Henley after the amputation of one of his legs in 1875, and as even the Wikipedia entry on the poem indicates, it is an instance of “Victorian stoicism,” or the “stiff upper lip.” It is arguable whether such “stoicism” is assimilable to the ancient Hellenistic philosophy of Stoicism: it certainly shares with the latter an emphasis on autarchy (self-mastery), but it does not directly link autarchy to the particular ethics of Stoic “virtue,” nor tend in any necessary way toward tranquility (Gk. ataraxia): instead, it must either assume that its amor fati (its embrace of a cruel fate) is inherently virtuous, or envisage the matter as non-ethical or extra-ethical — not a matter of right or wrong, per se, but an expression of an orientation toward one’s own misfortune.I mention this before quoting the poem not because I have any intention of impugning the poem’s moral content, but because it will become a live issue in what follows.I will also preface this by saying that the biographical facts attendant upon the composition of “Invictus,” because extratextual — not just because there are no amputated legs in the poem but for the assortment of reasons laid down long ago by William K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley in their classic essay on “The Intentional Fallacy” — will not enter directly into my work with the text itself.Wimsatt and Beardsley’s famous essay begins with the followingseries of propositions summarized and abstracted to a degree where they seem to us axiomatic, if not truistic.1. A poem does not come into existence by accident. The words of a poem, as Professor Stoll has remarked, come out of a head, not out of a hat. Yet to insist on the designing intellect as a cause of a poem is not to grant the design or intention as a standard.2. One must ask how a critic expects to get an answer to the question about intention. How is he to find out what the poet tried to do? If the poet succeeded in doing it, then the poem itself shows what he was trying to do. And if the poet did not succeed, then the poem is not adequate evidence, and the critic must go outside the poem—for evidence of an intention that did not become effective in the poem. "Only one caveat must be borne in mind," says an eminent intentionalist in a moment when his theory repudiates itself; "the poet's aim must be judged at the moment of the creative act, that is to say, by the art of the poem itself."3. Judging a poem is like judging a pudding or a machine. One demands that it work. It is only because an artifact works that we infer the intention of an artificer. “A poem should not mean but be.” A poem can be only through its meaning — since its medium is words — yet it is, it simply is, in the sense that we have no excuse for inquiring what part is intended or meant. Poetry is a feat of style by which a complex of meaning is handled all at once. Poetry succeeds because all or most of what is said or implied is relevant; what is irrelevant has been excluded, like lumps from pudding and "bugs" from machinery. In this respect poetry differs from practical messages, which are successful if and only if we correctly infer the intention. They are more abstract than poetry.4. The meaning of a poem may certainly be a personal one, in the sense that a poem expresses a personality or state of soul rather than a physical object like an apple. But even a short lyric poem is dramatic, the response of a speaker (no matter how abstractly conceived) to a situation (no matter how universalized). We ought to impute the thoughts and attitudes of the poem immediately to the dramatic speaker, and if to the author at all, only by a biographical act of inference.5. If there is any sense in which an author, by revision, has better achieved his original intention, it is only the very abstract, tautological, sense that he intended to write a better work and now has done it. (In this sense every author's intention is the same.) His former specific intention was not his intention. “He's the man we were in search of, that's true”; says Hardy's rustic constable, “and yet he's not the man we were in search of. For the man we were in search of was not the man we wanted.”(Wimsatt and Beardsley, 469. Read the whole text here.)I will defend and extend, and criticize where necessary, Wimsatt and Beardsley’s arguments in an upcoming installment of my series on The Educational Blog. But for now let’s just take it as read that I am not thinking about Henley-the-man when I write what follows; I am interested in the dramatic speaker, the fictive persona speaking these words, and only these words, always and ever at the same moment. No text can be coextensive with the conscious mental reality of a whole human being even at the moment of composition, and human beings change by the moment. This poem, like any, no matter how long it took to write and how many times it may or may not have undergone revision, is, as another poet put it, a “moment’s monument.” Henley is dead, but this speaker is alive and speaking to us; and if we learned that these words were not written by Henley, or were spit out randomly by a computer, we would still be able to identify the language as Victorian English, and draw the same inferences we do now from the text. The words mean what they mean and do what they do. The occasional “biographical act of inference” aside, the poet himself is an irrelevance. I may refer to “Henley” for convenience’s sake — but I will mean by “Henley” the speaker, or the artificing intelligence within the poem, not the formerly flesh-and-blood man who has long since perished, and is no longer master or captain of anything whatsoever.With that as our preface, let’s begin as any close reading must, with the text:Out of the night that covers me,Black as the Pit from pole to pole,I thank whatever gods may beFor my unconquerable soul.In the fell clutch of circumstanceI have not winced nor cried aloud.Under the bludgeonings of chanceMy head is bloody, but unbowed.Beyond this place of wrath and tearsLooms but the Horror of the shade,And yet the menace of the yearsFinds, 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.Let’s hear it, too: Share, Embed & Upload Audio with ClypI. “The Unconquerable Soul” and the Problem of Stanza 1Jan already noted the “strait gate” allusion in this poem’s last quatrain. (A quatrain is a stanza of four lines, in this case four lines of iambic tetrameter. In “Invictus” the quatrains rhyme abab, cdcd, etc. This is about as direct and uncomplicated a stanza as one could ask — a form useful for the straightforward declarative/self-exhortatory mode of the poem, its pretense to clarity; it does not, that is to say, invite the internal audience, or the reader “looking over the audience’s shoulder,” to suspect complexity at the formal level. It is a solid, sincere, onward-marching stanza, with the uphill feel of the iambic — ba BA, ba BA — to provide a hint of labor and striving. There are, of course, metrical variations within the lines to convey emphasis — one is tempted to say, “to assert mastery” over the rhythm — about which more anon.)What Jan did not note is that the speaker also begins this fuzzily secular but biblically conditioned (i.e., Victorian) poem in the world of biblical poetry, and in particular, with that same psalm that lent its title to what I consider the most poignant of Oscar Wilde’s works, De profundis. That phrase means “out of the depths,” and it is a cry of despair from a penitential psalm. The Victorians still knew the KJV best — so here are the opening verses of Psalm 130:1 Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord.2 Lord, hear my voice: let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.The speaker does not allude to these lines directly, but to the tradition of poems written in tribulation or adversity — the de profundis as poetic mode. In other words, the poem begins by expecting its audience to hear and expect something like the psalmist’s “supplications”; we are meant to hear the ancient echo of an anguish only God can salve. Indeed, those opening lines elaborate, almost to the level of bombast (and bombast is an ever-present threat to this poem qua poem), the character of those “depths”:Out of the night that covers me,Black as the Pit from pole to poleThis is, as I said, iambic tetrameter, but there are metrical variations for effect, to glue sound and sense together:OUT of the NIGHT that COvers ME (BAba baBA baBA baBA)BLACK as the PIT from POLE to POLE (BAba baBA baBA baBA)Rhythmically they are identical, but with different effects. The first line’s first three syllables (STRESSED-unstressed-unstressed) create a dactylic “downhill” feeling, one of swift movement, of escape: and that is what “OUT of the” is meant to convey. The directly parallel and metrically identical “Black as the Pit” does not align sound and sense by making the former imitate the latter; instead it lays heavy emphasis on the two adversity terms, “black” and “pit.” What we hear is a speaker slamming down on the important words: BLAH blah blah BLAH blah BLAH blah BLAH.The identical rhythms indicate metrical sophistication. The speaker conveys information in a studied, preconceived manner: there is here the artificial quality of verse-making. The vast majority of great poetry exhibits this — but the greatness is never just hammering out meter, metrical variations, or even sound-sense effects. A great poem places these kinds of artifice at the service of something larger. Let’s see what this stanza put these metrics at the service of.The speaker is “cover[ed]” by “night” — and not just night, but a “black” night. How black? “Black as the” capital-p “Pit” — which suggests the pit of hell, at the furthest remove from God’s light, or its earthly antitype, the sun, as is imaginable. (In the Inferno, once Dante the Pilgrim enters Hell, time is only ever told by the moon; once he emerges and once again can see the stars, time is told by the position of the sun. Similar dynamic here.) Nor is that sable sky lighter in any spot: the pit-darkness spans “from pole to pole.”This is all so dark as to remind us of a scene in This is Spinal Tap:How much blacker could the “Invictus” speaker’s predicament be? “The answer is none. None more black.”But do note that the opening three words are those of Psalm 130 in the Authorized Version: “out of the.” In a popular culture far more conversant with the content of Scripture than our own age, anyone reading or listening would have expected the fourth word to be “depths,” and for supplication to follow. Certainly that far greater Victorian poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, would have followed such a psalmic opening that way.Henley’s speaker has something else in mind. In the face of night black as the pit from pole to pole, we are given something that sits uncomfortably between Nietzsche, who declared God dead, and the psalmist, for whom the One True God saves:I thank whatever gods may beFor my unconquerable soul.This is a bold move, and it is a problem.The bold move is to respond not with pleading for strength, as the weight of literary tradition suggests a poem beginning as this one should, but rather to assert the speaker’s own strength in the face of his adversity, his gratitude for his own “unconquerable” nature. No “supplications”: instead we get a foretaste of Cristina Aguilera. I’m fucked; “thanks for making me a fighter.”He thanks “whatever gods may be.” This does not rule out Jehovah, of course, but it doesn’t affirm his existence any more than it does Zeus or Odin’s. In fact, the existence of gods is entirely conditional: that some god or gods “may be” assents to nothing more than the possibility of divinity.So in three lines the speaker has juked us out of our pants: he has set up the expectation of plea for help, defied it by expressing gratitude for his indwelling capacity to overcome his adversity, and directed his gratitude very vaguely in the direction of the supernatural.It is important to note that his refusal to specify is itself wholly irreverent by Christian standards. Martin Luther had insisted that Christians must make assertions, since otherwise they might be taken to believe in anyone, not the One True God; and long scriptural and theological traditions backed him up. But there is no One True God specified here. There is only a notional set of divine entities who may (or may not) exist, and therefore may or may not have bestowed upon the speaker an “unconquerable soul.”The opening stanza’s clever one-two punch is, therefore, a setup for devotional supplication followed by the irreverent assertion of confidence in the self. But I said there was a problem. The problem is “soul.”The soul, by any traditional definition, is the essence of the individual, the immaterial indwelling principle without which a living thing ceases to be what the living thing it is. The speaker’s soul is at minimum that which makes the speaker what he is, and without which he would be a lifeless lump of matter. It is the animate self.(Sidenote: Given the historical moment from which the language issues and the choice of masculine imagery — “master” not “mistress,” “captain,” etc. — and the lack of any problematization of such nouns — throughout the poem, not to mention the gladiatorial violence of its imagery, we can be pretty much certain the speaker is male.)But back to “soul” as the animate self. Where does the speaker’s “soul” come from? If there are “gods,” then that immaterial thing, the speaker’s “soul,” the proverbial “ghost in the machine,” may perhaps be a real existent.But if this is a disenchanted universe, and those gods vaguely adumbrated are a fiction, and the speaker is hinting that he may take credit for his “unconquerable soul,” then wherefore has he a “soul”? Souls, “literally,” are metaphysical entities. So either the speaker implies a metaphysics in which immaterial entities like souls exist — with or without “gods” as their donors — or he is using “soul” rather imprecisely to connote his nature or character or personality.The cavalier upending of biblical expectations in this opening stanza, and the declarations of self-mastery that follow it, suggest that the latter understanding of “soul” — as a metaphor for nature, character, personality — is the more accurate. That is a conclusion the poem will ratify in the big reveal of the last stanza. But in that case, we are forced to acknowledge an inbuilt limitation. The “soul” of the speaker is, in fact, quite conquerable, because he is mortal. Souls are only “literally” unconquerable if they retain their status as immortal immaterial essences.In this first stanza, then, the hedging about gods seems to reveal a certain hedging about what it means to be invictus. Either one’s puissance comes from divinities, and the speaker is asserting that the gift itself came, for him at least, with the attribute of invincibility in this life, where his troubles are, and beyond too, if the soul be immortal; or the thanks to “whatever gods may be” is strictly pro forma, and the “soul” under discussion refers only to the courage with which one confronts this life, and is only “unconquerable” with respect to those this-worldly adversities that do not cause death (because at death the metaphorical “soul,” i.e. the personality, will die with the man). The specter of the cheapjack, uncritical, and acontextual understanding of Nietzsche’s line that “what does not kill me makes me stronger” looms here in the background, whether or not the Invictus can be convicted of knowing Nietzsche’s line. The track of thought is the same.It is, in short, unclear what kind of universe the speaker ultimately believes himself to inhabit. But what we do know for certain is that he does not shy away from bombast — the de profundis trope is blown up to such an extent that one would think no man ever suffered as this one has, which suggests a rather outsized and unqualified sense of the self’s significance — but cannot quite bring himself to a wholehearted expression of irreverence. Is he captain of that tricky “soul” enough to steer away from uncertainties and declare himself either a theist or a secularist? Are the “gods” there only to connect the de profundis opening to the assertion of invincibility in lines 3–4? If so, does that not muddy the metaphysical waters?As I said, this is a problem the poem sets from the outset. It is an unresolved tension, the only real one in the poem, and I will argue that the poem’s sole intellectual task is to resolve it — albeit in a surprising and dangerous way — at the end.The thought-world of the first stanza is: I don’t know what kind of universe this is, or where my selfhood originates; I know that I am cognizant of my own strength, whatever the truth about the rest may be.The thought-world of the last will be: Whatever there may be outside me, I defy it. I control “fate”; I sail the ship that is me.But there’s a lot in between, isn’t there? The question for me, as a reader or critic of this poem, is whether the poem does anything other than repeat its central idea until it reaches its resolution in the final stanza. As will emerge, I do not think it does. Instead it continues to hem and haw in its bombastic way, with new images emerging for us to conceptualize, but no evolution in the central conceit. It is metastatic but not metamorphic, and that makes it redundant and bombastic. More on that shortly.II. Audience and Dramatic Situation: Who Speaks to Whom?Before I turn to the intervening stanzas between first and last, we should put one more question to the poem: What is the dramatic situation here? That is, To whom, within the poem, does the speaker speak?We know what some of the audience’s prerequisite attributes are — education sufficient to appreciate the speaker’s high linguistic artifice and the metrical nuance that aligns sound and sense, and conversancy with the Bible and biblical genres. Otherwise the speaker cannot be understood at the pitch at which he speaks. So, an educated member of his social class — “educated” and “class” go together in this historical period. But while that tells us a bit about the audience, it doesn’t explain the conditions under which the speaker addresses the audience.Under what circumstances might the full text of this poem be spoken to another human? The poem never quite clarifies this.The audience may be the speaker himself, buoying himself with his own rhetorical excesses and using them to shore up whatever fears he wishes elaborately to deny; or we are forced to imagine some hapless interlocutor(s) or onlooker(s) being harried with his oration. In person and in private, all this high artifice and strained rhetoric would seem rather like blustering, no? This is not an unpremeditated discourse. It is a finished discourse. So a private utterance to another individual person seems unlikely.So, Option 1: The poet is his own audience; he is “listening” to himself give Life a good talking-to.Option 2: The intended audience is a real or imagined public one, and that the present tense of the poem provides immediacy to a struggle now passed and endured.If we choose Option 2, “Invictus” becomes an anthemic sort of thing meant to rouse others (cue that string soundtrack). The oratorical excesses of the poem are fitter for a public than a private context. In that case, the nonstop purple verse is justified by aspiration to a large and public, even a notionally universal, audience (read: readership), and meant to assure other “souls” amid private struggles of their own invincibility. By avouching the invincibility of the speaker’s “soul,” the poem invites others to do the same. Perhaps it is for this reason that the speaker neglects to specify so much as one specific thing about his suffering: it aspires to make the individual’s suffering everyman’s suffering.If we think about it, these two are not mutually exclusive; indeed they are not options at all. This is a poem written, with care, design, and high rhetorical finish, by one man in solitude — again, no one sprays just these rhymed and metrically suggestive verses at someone else for the nonce — as a private exhortation to the self — an exhortation via assertion, as in “You can do this, self! You can!” — that has a potential universality, or universalizing designs, since what this one speaker imagines himself saying to life’s tribulations are things others too might want to say in the same fine words.III. An Excursus: Between Criticism and TasteAccording to the New Critic Cleanth Brooks — this is on p. 51 of The Well Wrought Urn: Studies in the Structure of Poetry — the great eighteenth-century critic, poet, prose stylist, and editor of Shakespeare, Samuel Johnson, in his analysis of Milton’s double poem, L’Allegro – Il Penseroso, isdefinitely about the critic’s job. He inspects the poems—he does not emote over them.Thus far I have been inspecting and not emoting, and therefore going about what Johnson and Brooks take for “the critic’s job.” But removing the inspector’s hat and setting down the magnifying glass for a moment, I would point out something about the relationship between taste and sets of personal values.The problem I have with “Invictus” as an artifact aspiring to the condition of art can be that the poem, even if it is meant to buoy up the speaker’s own courage and others’ who come after, reminds me of a kind of cathartic self-help discourse. It reminds me of those Facebook posts one sees in which someone writes “Fuck you, cancer!” Cancer cannot hear us. Likewise, Life cannot hear us. We can give it the rhetorical what-for, declare pyrrhic victory over its adversities, but when we do so, we are not tough, or masterly, or unconquerable, nor even confronting a real opponent. We are, at such moments, weak and afraid. One of my quibbles with this poem is that its metaphors turn emotional vulnerabilities into physical ones (“bloody”), and immediately assert triumph. Even if the triumph is to be shared out with others who will also say, “Yeah! take that, Life!”, isn’t it a lonely kind of triumph, a triumph that makes a monad of each of us?This is why I tend to think of this as the “We Are the Champions” of poetry, only without the all-important “we,” and minus the more plainspoken metaphorics of “I’ve had my share of sand kicked in my face,” etc. And I don’t like Queen anyway.The greatest songs of courage always seem to this reader, to me personally, but certainly not to everyone, to involve a “we”: the “I” of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” sees the extreme vulnerability and struggle of its speaker as that of black folk in America, and speaks not of unqualified conquest of a private harm, but of finding the strength to be “able to carry on” in the face of particular experiences of racism shared by those to and for whom it was written. John Lennon’s “Imagine” imagines “all the people” and the “world… as one”; Bob Marley’s great “Redemption Song,” about which I wrote recently, is about the Rasta “I,” the “I and I” that identifies self with other in brotherhood: “pirates yes they rob I” means “pirates robbed us”; “we forward in this generation/triumphantly”; “none but ourselves can free our minds”; “how long shall they kill our prophets?”; “won’t you help [me] to sing/these songs of freedom.” I am drawn to courage as survival through unity. I dislike egoism. We are weaker alone. We are all in this shit together. “Invictus” never gets outside the defiant “I.” Even if, as I put it, the individual’s struggle (and triumph) is potentially everyman’s, he never mentions everyman, or any man. It’s all I all the time.For this reason it strikes me — as it may or may not strike you — as a bit hollow. If an individual would triumph over a private pain, I want to know what that pain is, not just that some great Kampf has been alluded to. More specificity, in my view, might generate the empathy required to make me feel that the particular moved meaningfully, with a kind of earned authority, toward the universal. But that is, again, me. It’s my taste, not criticism. And it is a disciplinary imperative to separate the two.But as it happens, I have given myself a nice segueway back to the business of inspecting.IV. More of (Nearly) the Same: Stanzas 2–3In the fell clutch of circumstanceI have not winced nor cried aloud.Under the bludgeonings of chanceMy head is bloody, but unbowed.Beyond this place of wrath and tearsLooms but the Horror of the shade,And yet the menace of the yearsFinds, and shall find, me unafraid.So here we are. “Circumstance” (unspecified) is the sort of thing that has a “fell” (cruel) “clutch” — one is put in mind of a Circumstance-hawk, with a man in its cruel claws — but in that grip, the speaker has “not winced nor cried aloud.” There is a suggestion here, that to have admitted to feeling pain would be to admit defeat, that to wince or to cry out is somehow weakness. There’s an old-fashioned notion of masculinity, no? Anyway, the speaker did not, literally or metaphorically, get “girly” when circumstances got rough with him.Everything is a circumstance; a circumstance is, etymologically, what “stands around” (Lat. circum, around + stans, standing, from stare, stand). Some circumstances arise by chance. But if Circumstance personified is a bird of prey or something else with a “fell clutch,” the kinds of circumstance that arise from “chance” personified is an anthropomorphic figure with a club (“bludgeon”). The speaker is vulnerable enough to have been injured — his “head is bloody” from the “bludgeoning,” “but unbowed.” Once again, the man has faced the unpleasant realities of everyday life and refused to show weakness. A hard man! (Though if he doesn’t complain, he does seem to boast, no?)That said, we should note that the universe of the poem, as understood by the speaker, now admits of “chance”: that means that not all things happen for a reason, which implicitly suggests that not every circumstance is fated or divinely mandated. Perhaps we can say the admission of “chance” into the party gestures implicitly in the direction of one reading of stanza 4’s assertion of mastery over fate. But it only adumbrates: “chance,” after all, may only be apparent; we are not definitively in, or out, of the world of “whatever gods may be.”The point has not yet been made. He’s tough, this guy. Tough! Again the speaker alludes to the thought-world of the Bible and Christianity: life in this world is a “vale of tears,” but with wrath added in. But beyond life looms only death, which, described as “the Horror of the shade,” must partake of some degree of sarcasm — since in the very next lines, “the menace of the years,” of aging and mortality, do and will continue to find the speaker unafraid. So that “Horror,” capital-H, must be something of a bogeyman to frighten lesser spirits, and “the shade” is ambiguous enough to suggest the Greek and Babylonian underworlds, the unseen ghostly realm, the darkness of the crypt, or simply that which is obscured from our sight. Death is unknowable, but perhaps never to be known, and certainly not to be feared, now or later. The speaker is “unafraid” of “the shade.” “The shade” even carries connotations of cool, of rest beneath the sheltering boughs of a tree. We are here, perhaps, reminded of William Cullen Bryant’s “Thanatopsis,” which instructs “him who in the love of Nature holds/Communion with her visible forms” — someone, admittedly, rather more sanguine and Romantic about the beauty of life and world than the struggler of “Invictus” — toSo live, that when thy summons comes to joinThe innumerable caravan, which movesTo that mysterious realm, where each shall takeHis chamber in the silent halls of death,Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothedBy an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,Like one who wraps the drapery of his couchAbout him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.Perhaps the “Horror of the shade” is no “Horror” at all; perhaps to die is rather like lying down to pleasant dreams, or, to use yet another poet’s (Andrew Marvell’s) phrase, likeAnnihilating all that’s madeTo a green thought in a green shade.If one notices that the passages quoted here seem rather finer than those of “Invictus,” that is as it may be. But what Henley’s and Bryant’s hold, potentially, in common, is the notion that death itself is nothing to fear, or nothing worth fearing.What is missing from the “Invictus”-speaker’s discourse is any of the complex negotiation with nature and mortality that marks the longer and more sophisticated verse of Bryant’s poem. The central point of stanzas 2–3 is that nothing life hands Henley’s speaker is sufficient to make him afraid, wince, or cry out, or otherwise act in an undignified and (remember, Victorian era!) “womanish” manner.As hair-metal tomfools Poison once put it, “You gotta cry tough.” But Invictus does not cry. Those glam guys. So girly… I will seem to be joking, but honestly, this really does strike me as a painful denial of all human affect — of tears, of vulnerability, of all the things that make us relatable to one another — on the altar of a machismo disguised as stoic virtue. Again, these verses underscore the isolation of the speaker. This poem, in its effort to universalize the struggle of the individual, fails to individuate the individual except to exclude from the company of the unvanquished women, children, and men who would dare to cry out in pain. Perhaps such stern stuff is needed to survive the worst alone, and the speaker has not shown us any other person, nor even really shown us himself. He is hiding behind his stiff upper lip. He is denying his humanity in an effort precisely to overcome it. He has not heard, or does not recall, Macbeth’s remarkable lines:I dare do all that may become a man;Who dares do more is none.When Macbeth forgets his own advice, he becomes a monster, and for what he gains he loses his wife, himself, his conscience, his sleep, and his ability to believe that life is anything other than a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Which doesn’t sound terribly far from the “place of wrath and tears” beyond which “looms but the Horror of the shade.”Invictus is unafraid. Should he be? Has he suppressed his humanity too far? Again, that will lead us into the extracritical, into the emotive. The poem does not raise these things as problems. All it does in these stanzas is:Assert that the speaker has not whinged about “circumstance” with “fell clutch” or “chance,” for all its bludgeoning;And assert that he does not fear aging or death either. He is truly ad utrumque paratus.If there is a human cost, “Invictus” does not reckon it. Is this a picture of human heroism? The poem does not even assert that. What does it finally assert? What is its big “reveal”?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.Like Peter, for the third time Henley’s speaker denies deity — but this time it is with a movement from the “problem” of the first stanza to a final certitude adumbrated, but only adumbrated, in stanza 2.The first two lines of this final stanza can apply to this world or the next, if there be a next. To see the neatest thing about this poem, we need to consider this duplicity.If we take “gate” and “scroll” to be metaphors for challenges in this life, the “place of wrath and tears,” then the third and fourth lines are a straightforward declaration that “fate” is nothing more than what we will. The biblical “strait gait” can be read in secularized terms as any difficult pass, anything it will require effort to get through. The scroll charged with punishments can be reduced, as well, to the punishments life doles out (amputation of a leg comes to mind). No matter how many “punishments” this malevolent life seems to throw at the speaker, “I am,” he says, “the master of my fate.”In this first case, “fate” no longer has the suggestion of divine superintendence or design at all. “Fate” is “circumstance,” including bludgeoning “chance,” and if we accept it stoically, we can master it: we can refuse to be bowed by its beatings; we can take away its grounds of harming us. We can construe all this-worldly harms as irrelevant if we have but the captaincy over our inward condition, call it our soul and worry about the metaphysics some other time.This is indeed a Stoic idea, or a version of one. The Stoic claims that the maintenance of inward virtue is what conduces to tranquillitas animi (in Latin) or ataraxia (in Greek): tranquility, peace, calm, contentment. (In the Latin of Seneca — which contains much of what survives of ancient Stoicism — what we call “virtue” is virtus, a word mixed up, before the spread of Christianity across the Latin-speaking world, with “manliness” — the Latin word for the individual man is vir, which gives us “virile.” That “virtue”/virtus/vir complex seems very much alive in the “Invictus”-speaker.)Do the stiff-upper-lipped but rhetorically inflated — indeed, the uttered — traumas of “Invictus” give us a picture of this-worldy ataraxia? I do not think so. What it gives us is the raw will to control the effects of pain and hardship on the inward self, on the “soul” — not so much to attain peace, but simply to be “unconquered,” not to be ground down, to be “bloody, but unbowed.”Sed contra, the last stanza leaves open, indeed flirts with, the likelihood that there is a god, and indeed possibly the Abrahamic God after all, because that “strait gait,” as Jan showed us, is out of the Gospels, and the scroll — an image of the Book of Life — is a record of sins, and may therefore be “charged” (full) “with punishments” by a just God. In other words, the second reading of this last stanza is that in spite of the difficulty of winning salvation from God, in spite of the threat of eternal perdition, the speaker asserts mastery over fate and the captaincy of his soul.This is a far more radical twist. It is an assertion of absolute egoism that sets itself against heaven and defies the Lord of Hosts, in the full knowledge that the price of such defiance might be eternal perdition. To assimilate this to anything like a Stoic paradigm, this would mean that defiance of a God who makes a world like this one is itself virtue, and that the willingness to maintain with dignity one’s inward condition across an eternity of agony is a measure of, and I emphasize it again, a man.Indeed, we could say that it is willingness to endure endless suffering that makes man a god, if we push just hard enough: those trochees that open the last two lines — “I am…/I am” — find the speaker hammering out God’s name:And God said unto Moses, I Am That I Am: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I Am hath sent me unto you.Too far? Maybe, but only maybe.Because the poem does not discriminate between the interpretations offered here, and each one deals with a different category of experience (this-worldly, [possible] afterworldly), I think the poem invites us to choose both/and over either/or. Poetry frequently operates at multiple levels in precisely this way; this is one of the ways in which it poses a variety of cognitive challenges unique to its mode of expression.This means something rather unexpected. In this world, “Invictus” boils down to a determination to retain sovereignty over one’s inward condition — that inward personhood called “soul” — in the face of anything, any pain. It does not explicitly hold out any offer of tranquility of mind, or ataraxia. It becomes a surprisingly obdurate statement of will despite anguish. Which is a less triumphant conclusion than we might have expected. It makes the captaincy of one’s soul sound like a tenuous and quite possibly painful thing. Like Peter O’Toole’s T. E. Lawrence, “the trick,” for Invictus, “is not minding that it hurts.”And that’s on this earth. If we die and there is nothing, there is nothing, or perhaps there is that peaceful “shade” hinted at above; but in the last stanza the speaker entertains a true worst-case scenario: the vengeful God is real, the scroll charged with punishments, and eternal suffering the price to pay for defiant self-assertion. Rather than be victus, conquered, a “victim,” Invictus chooses this: he looks into hell itself and says “bring it.”It certainly seems brave. But, to paraphrase Spinal Tap this time, there’s such a fine line between brave and stupid.Footnotes Invictus - Wikipedia https://american-poetry-and-the-self12.wikispaces.com/file/view/Wimsatt+%26+Beardsley,+Intentional+Fallacy.pdf Invictus by William Ernest Henley Bible Gateway passage: Psalm 130 - King James Version Purple prose - Wikipedia https://books.google.com/books?id=bDXkK4C6CDAC&pg=PA51&dq=%22he+inspects+the+poems;+he+does+not+emote%22&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiBr9yZ4pTZAhUExVkKHaiWDP4Q6AEIKTAA#v=onepage&q=%22he%20inspects%20the%20poems%3B%20he%20does%20not%20emote%22&f=false Michael Masiello's answer to What did Bob Marley mean with: Have no fear for atomic energy 'cause none of them can stop the time. How long shall they kill our prophets? Vale of tears - Wikipedia Thanatopsis by William Cullen Bryant The Garden by Andrew Marvell SCENE VII. Macbeth's castle. Ad utrumque paratus - Wikipedia Bible Gateway passage: Exodus 3:14 - King James Version
Is it worth dreaming of impossibilities? What is impossible and how do you define it?
What may be impossible for some generations, may be possible for others.-Human consciousness and imagination is “invisible,” yet it helps bring fantastic medical marvels, space exploration, comfort, into physical reality.-Greek mythology, for example, has a satirical visual of a human head with a bovine body. That is “impossible” and yet, who knows, with cloning in the future, it can actually be possible.-We get clues from our “invisible” collisions in our ‘bubble chamber,’ the few cubic centimeters within the skull, on an illusionary stage, prior to fabricating prototypes, and mass production.-If you want something that many had thought “impossible” how about a “thinking articulate planet?”-First we should set up some ground work. Human kind has found that “getting outside the box” from one’s own specific field of discipline to collaborate with other areas of knowledge has been an astounding way of jumping from one plateau into even higher.-Mysticism, mythology, wild imagination, all provided clues, that have helped writers in science fiction and fantasy to inspire scientists. For example, Sherlock Holmes magnifying glass is a respected train of thought for forensic scientists.Science fiction has been a wonderful foreshadow of future world technology and knowledge and that stemmed from mysticism, mythology, philosophy and so on, to synthesize into products that can shoved unto the market.-Back to a thinking planet. We can find notable mathematicians, physicists, and other scientists who enjoyed when they could escape the devoted drudgeries of experimental application and trial and error. They could ‘think’ about stuff that sounds impossible because it is as if they see connections between what quantum thinkers are doing and philosophies discussed throughout the ages.-These are basically the “TAO of PHYSICISTS” typologies, usually theoretical physicists who explore quantum mysticism as clues.Let us refer to a controversial figure, W0lfGang Pauli.W0lfGang’s dream illustration in the above table includes the four functions used by Swiss psychologist Dr. Carl Jung for individuals.However, we see that Pauli explains this dream as a “collective unconscious.” But he preferred to use the term “u-field” around physicists to refer to the invisible unconscious. (Atom and Archetype p 144).We should also note that the collaboration between these two figures ended up with a “unified vision” (physics/psychology) that included a cross over of terminology created, innovated and implemented, as in the tables below.There are more, but these should suffice.In a sense, if we can have at least a crude anthropomorphic grasp of an individual person fractalized, jumping into a higher collective spectrum, like a sort of Ultra Human, it would be analogous to Pauli’s exclusion principle where the electrons having the same energy would have to get out of there into another level.-We do have some caveats, so they should be noted.Just as a person is a multiple-unity (example: atoms, dna-person), we can visualize a “collective unconscious” as a greater scale. Something like an Ultra Man Psyche with multiple personality traces.-Again, a caveat, as we must guard from considering everything a “coincidence.”Having pointed that out, Pauli had been initiated into philolinguistic symbolism coming into his dreams. He is able to “see double” (physics/psychology). His term is Windaugen, which is a monad with windows (Leibniz monad has no windows).Pauli was not the only one to view physics and psychology as two opposite spins of the same abstract. Though Pauli favored symmetry, he lost to his rival and friend, Bohr.“Bohr was convinced that complimentary was relevant not only to physics but also to psychology and to life itself” (Deciphering the Cosmic Number p 102).Jung adopted the asymmetrical mirroring of the two opposites for his analytical psychology.In short, by combining separate areas of knowledge, we can consider some advice from Dr. Ira Progoff, Depth psychologist.“We thus receive from Jung two very seminal hypotheses with respect firstly to the contents and secondly to the principle of operation of the Noosphere. When we translate Teilhard's phrase into the terms of its more general significance and see it as the front edge of evolution emerging from the experiences of the human spirit, the mutual support of Jung and Teilhard de Chardin becomes clear. Both are contributors to the new world view that is taking shape in this generation.” (Jung, Synchronicity and Human Destiny p 8).Basically, here is something TielHard says,So now, we can at least visualize how in the discussions above a sort of “I” searching for it’s “heart,” as if oscillating between the invisible unconsious and visible conscious, similar to an individual dream, but a mind boggling whopper, forms a sort of thinking articulate planet.It is true, that during the early studies of Pauli, Jung, de Chardin, and many others that such a possibility has not yet emerged, and they say so, we are closer now, thanks to much efforts of separate thinkers that allow interested readers to combine common thoughts along these lines.-Inside each of us, if we consider that our ‘inner self’ is a nucleus, we are “parts” to a “whole.”-In Einstein’s later life, according to F. David Peat,“In Einstein’s vision, the universe is like an organism in which each part is the manifestation of the whole” (Synchronicity: The Bridge Between Matter and Mind p 76).Depth psychologist, Dr. Ira Progoff says about the matter mind issue, especially because Einstein used to frequent Jung’s mansion and discuss his early stages of the relativity theory.“It is interesting in this regard to note that the recent opening of Einstein’s private papers has disclosed that dreams and images played a very important role in Einstein’s creative life. Those luncheon conversations may have been more fruitful that Jung realized, especially since we now know that Einstein possessed a keen sensitivity to the deep levels of the psyche. It may, at some later tie, be very fruitful to study the relationship between Jung and Einstein more closely, particularly in view of Einstein’s interest in Hindu/Buddhist thought and his later description of the archetypal qualities of the relativity concept.“While Jung may have had an important psychological effect on Einstein, the theory of Relativity became the base and starting point for his own thinking about Synchronicity. At several points he seems to have been consciously seeking to develop a concept that would be the equivalent of the relativity theory with the added dimension of the psyche” (Ira Progoff, Jung, Synchronicity and Human Destiny, p 152).Arthur Koestler, who is critical of the Pauli/Jung collaboration in his popular The Roots of Coincidence pp. 100-101; and Janus: A Summing Up, p 264, says the opposite to his more elite audience in Harpers Magazine article, Order from Disorder, July 1974. Yet, he does shed much positive light on the old mind matter issue.“,,, the eminent astronomer, V. A. Firsoff suggested that ‘mind was a universal entity or interaction of the same order as electricity or gravitation, and that there must exist a modulus of transformation, analogous to Einstein’s famously equality E=mc squared, whereby ‘mind stuff’ could be equated with other entities of the physical world.” (Arthur Koestler, The Roots of Coincidence, p 63);-We could go on and on, with many references to support this endeavor, but this would tax the reader. The gist is that if we investigate the matter, we find that Energy Matter are not the only game in town. They have been able to identify a “speedier” formless that appears to pre-exist. Our idea of “SPACE” must change.-We are accustomed to think of the ‘past’ as having vanished and the ‘future’ as a not yet existent event. But Hubble telescope proves, according to astrophysicists, Rocky Kolb and Michael Turner of University of Chicago, that “SPACE is being created faster than the velocity of light.” (interview on WGN RADIO Extension 720 program, hosted by Dr. Milton Rosenberg).-With this in mind, EM and the Pauli/Jung Psyche and non localized not quite the other forms/formless would operate complimentary. These for EMPs, would have a “SPACE” that includes “TIME” ‘past,’ ‘present,’ and ‘future’ simultaneously, not the physical view of the measured time that we trust and rely upon and are good enough for us to operate and improve our domain.-Professor of Higher Mathematics, prior to Jung’s English translation of synchronicity points out,“In a Situation of well-defined knowledge, it is useless to increase indefinitely the possibilities of control and of synchronicity. But what gives us the right, we might ask, to stop the process of extension at this point? If one does not admit the existence of an objective and universal time, is it not a fault of method to assume that the controls of synchronicity which have been erected would guarantee those which were not yet erected? Is it admissible to exclude as impossible the ease of an instrument still "unpublished" which could not be easily fitted into the group of clocks presently in use? We have already answered this question indirectly. It is not necessary to construct all possible clocks; it suffices to establish the temporal law of the phenomena. As long as this temporal law does not vary with regard to the moment when the phenomenon begins (this Variation certainly could not be attributed to any momentary influence or to any more or less concealed evolution of the system which is the seat of this phenomenon), we have no reason whatever to abandon the hypothesis of a universal time, and every phenomenon whose law does not vary in the course of time confirms this hypothesis. What more can we ask of a natural law?” (Time and Method p 216).Thus, a thinking planet might go mostly undetected, operating blatant, even overt, as if bragging about itself, and elude most thresholds of awareness. It is so big that it is basically “invisible.”
Is panpsychism consistent with the mathematical universe hypothesis?
If true that “man is no better than a number” and that we can break “everything” down to THE “ONE” we would have to identify the ‘forms/formless’ that permeates “the many” as “THE ONE.”Energy Matter (Einstein) Psyche’ (Pauli/Jung) + transparent non local not quite the other forms/formless as different aspects of the same may be a good visualization of how these four EMPs can operate as if similar to Einstein’s famous equation.“In Einstein’s vision, the universe is like an organism in which each part is the manifestation of the whole” (Synchronicity: The Bridge Between Matter and Mind p 76).A “part” can be as tiny as a point which can transcend beyond the ability to measure some resolution into a dimensionless monad, for example.The “analogy” would be as if monads aggregates are monadology, then data’s are information, and atoms can form molecules.The more sophisticated the instruments and system, the “invisible” becomes “visible.”“… analogous to Einstein’s famously equality E=mc squared, whereby ‘mind stuff’ could be equated with other entities of the physical world.”“,,, the eminent astronomer, V. A. Firsoff suggested that ‘mind was a universal entity or interaction of the same order as electricity or gravitation, and that there must exist a modulus of transformation, analogous to Einstein’s famously equality E=mc squared, whereby ‘mind stuff’ could be equated with other entities of the physical world.” (Arthur Koestler, The Roots of Coincidence, p 63);Depth psychologist, Dr. Ira Progoff says about the matter mind issue,“…a concept that would be the equivalent of the relativity theory with the added dimension of the psyche”“It is interesting in this regard to note that the recent opening of Einstein’s private papers has disclosed that dreams and images played a very important role in Einstein’s creative life. Those luncheon conversations may have been more fruitful that Jung realized, especially since we now know that Einstein possessed a keen sensitivity to the deep levels of the psyche. It may, at some later tie, be very fruitful to study the relationship between Jung and Einstein more closely, particularly in view of Einstein’s interest in Hindu/Buddhist thought and his later description of the archetypal qualities of the relativity concept.“While Jung may have had an important psychological effect on Einstein, the theory of Relativity became the base and starting point for his own thinking about Synchronicity. At several points he seems to have been consciously seeking to develop a concept that would be the equivalent of the relativity theory with the added dimension of the psyche” (Ira Progoff, Jung, Synchronicity and Human Destiny, p 152).The problem has been dismissing the “PSYCHE’” (mind) because it is obscure, unmeasured and unreliable. But even each thought is part of timespace and thus a psyche’ fact.We know there are locals and now we are getting to the realization of a non local.The difference in scale and performance is mind boggling. Imagine ants, for example that have a collective ‘feeling.” Perhaps if we can view a “chemical body” if we can accept a definition by Blaise Pascal,“To end this he (Pascal) thought up a definition of body expressly conceived to fit our space that he might easily draw his inference from it. His words are: I define body as that which is composed of separate parts, and I say that every body is space when it is considered between its boundaries, and that every other space is body because it is composed of separate parts.” (The Great Books of the Western World Pascal VOL 33 Scientific Treatises p 376).This appears to include animate and inanimate as either a part and/or a whole body, an ecosystem that includes abiotic chemicals.Dagobert D Runes points at Bertrand Russels, in his Human Knowledge (1948)“He demands that the description of the world be kpt free from influences derived from the nature of human knowledge, and declares that ‘cosmically and causally, knowledge is an unimportant feature of the universe.’ Like Whitehead, he holds that the distinction between mind and body is a dubious one. It will be better to speak of organism, leaving the division of its activities between the mind and the body undetermined. What is true or false is a state of organism. But it is true or false in general, in virtue of occurrences outside the organism” (Pictorial History of Philosophy p 269).Every individual is made in the same image as an organism with whole and parts. Everyone is composed of sub particles, atoms and molecules, bacteria, chemical dna, organs, and so on (multiplicity) while simultaneously acting as a person (unity).We can look at the mathematics of a social system.Alvin Toffler in a Foreword to the book, Order out of Chaos by Ilya Prigogine, a Nobel Prize winner, and Isabelle Stengers, says,“Imagine a situation in which a chemical or other reaction produces an enzyme whose presence then encourages further production of the same enzyme. This is an example of what computer scientists would call a positive-feedback loop. In chemistry it is called ‘auto-catalysis.’ Such situations are rare in inorganic chemistry. But in recent decades the molecular biologists have found that such loops (along with inhibitory or "negative" feedback and more complicated "cross-catalytic" processes) are the very stuff of life itself. Such processes help explain how we go from little lumps of DNA to complex living organisms. More generally, therefore, in far-from-equilibrium conditions we find that very small perturbations or fluctuations can become amplified into gigantic, structure-breaking waves. And this sheds light on all sorts of "qualitative" or "revolutionary" change processes. When one combines the new insights gained from studying far-from-equilibrium states and nonlinear processes, along with these complicated feedback systems, a whole new approach is opened that makes it possible to relate the so-called hard sciences to the softer sciences of life-and perhaps even to social processes as well” (Order Out Of Chaos p vii).The lowliest, for example mold cells without a brain at a certain stage become slime mold and exhibit as if intelligent behavior.Paleontologist theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s enthusiastic optimistic vision admitted“No doubt it is true, scientifically speaking, that no distinct centre of superhuman consciousness has yet appeared on earth (at least in the living world ) for which it may be claimed or predicted that one day it will exercise a centralizing function, in relation to the associated human thought, similar to the role of the individual ‘I’ in relation to the cells of the brain” (The Future of Man p 174).But when we consider that Professor Wolfgang Pauli, mathematician, physicist, theoretical physicist, one of the pioneers of quantum mechanics dream illustration, his “countries mandala,”depict another “collective ‘i’” as if an oscillation between the invisible unconscious back into the visible. He uses the same four functions of the psyche’ that his collaborator, a psychologist Dr. Carl Jung used for the individual therapy.Depth Psychologist Dr. Ira Progoff suggested that we compare this work with Tielhards (Jung, Synchronicity and Human Destiny pp 7–10).Pere’ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin says,“…what I have called its 'Brain'. As in the case of all the organisms preceding it, but on an immense scale, humanity is in process of 'cerebralising' itself. And our proper biological course, in making use of what we call our leisure, is to devote it to a new kind of work on a higher plane: that is to say, to a general and concerted effort of vision. The Noosphere, in short, is a stupendous thinking machine.” (The Future of Man p 180).Pauli also used the term “u-field” in place of the psychological “collective unconscious”. He said,“All sorts ideas crossed my mind on hearing this: Among physicists I sometimes use the term ‘U-field’ for the unconscious ...” (Atom and Archetype p 144).What is ironic is that Pauli’s “countries mandala” dream illustration and discussion is as if an individual “I,” “eye” and “aye” suddenly jumps as if analogous to his Pauli Exclusion principle where electrons appear to jump levels.In this case, the “I” is also at another spectral coherent level or orbit emerging as a sort of Ultra Human with a collective “I,” “eye,” and “aye.”This pattern, “automorphism” and “isomorphism” similar to fractals operate at different levels and scales with symmetric/asymmetric systems.Mirrorings that resemble “meaning” appear inherent in nature. As if life has, what Professor Pauli says, is a “physical dream language.” He also suggested that we “see double” (physics/psychology).“Bohr was convinced that complimentary was relevant not only to physics but also to psychology and to life itself” (Deciphering the Cosmic Number p 102).Mythologist Joseph Campbell during his interviews with Bill Moyers suggested that we should “look past the physical and see the world as a poem.”The difficulty is for a classical scientist to accept the mathematics at such a humongous scale for a number of reasons. Yet, such a “universal clock” (synchronicity) can be implemented right under and over most noses and eyes eluding thresholds of awareness.Professor of Higher Mathematics, Ferdinand Gonseth said,“...have taken a further step, not only towards the objectivation of the measurement of time, but also towards the objectivation of time itself When will this procedure of extension have reached its term? Principally never. In practice one must observe moderation. In a Situation of well-defined knowledge, it is useless to increase indefinitely the possibilities of control and of synchronicity.“But what gives us the right, we might ask, to stop the process of extension at this point? If one does not admit the existence of an objective and universal time, is it not a fault of method to assume that the controls of synchronicity which have been erected would guarantee those which were not yet erected? Is it admissible to exclude as impossible the ease of an instrument still "unpublished" which could not be easily fitted into the group of clocks presently in use?“We have already answered this question indirectly. It is not necessary to construct all possible clocks; it suffices to establish the temporal law of the phenomena. As long as this temporal law does not vary with regard to the moment when the phenomenon begins (this Variation certainly could not be attributed to any momentary influence or to any more or less concealed evolution of the system which is the seat of this phenomenon), we have no reason whatever to abandon the hypothesis of a universal time, and every phenomenon whose law does not vary in the course of time confirms this hypothesis. What more can we ask of a natural law?” (Time and Method p 216).At these deeper level of thinking, we are in a better position to be more cognizant of our entangled mathematics with the “whole.”