a response to William Ernest Henley’s poem “Invictus,” from which the first two lines of the final stanza are taken.

Dry chatter of dry souls dies out,
Beleaguered by the eastern wind,
When this world’s chaff is blown about:
The chaff of every soul that sinned.

Their tongues grow swollen in their throats,
Numb to the bitter gall of death;
So, boldly do they board the boats
That bear man o’er the final breath!

But the wind rises in those sails
And topples them into the Pit,
Surrounded by their pangs and wails:
The fruit sown by their worldly grit.

“It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,”
The Lord is master of my fate:
The captain of my conquered soul.



On Temptation

When I’m tempted,
I’m contented
If it’s easy to refuse;
But it’s then I start to lose.
For in ease a man may learn
How to his defenses spurn.

E’er increasing,
Ne’er releasing,
Sinful humors quickly grow
When the swordsman’s strikes are slow.
For defenses unapplied
Are acceptances implied.

Soon the humors
Spread like tumors,
Planting rumors that the lure
“Is a weak thing; you’ll endure.”
Weak’s the man within their trust,
Lying open to the lust.



To a Murdered Word

You were a lovely Eden-flower
Growing in the Garden past,
The bearer of what sacred power
In your petals there was cast.

The argent droplets of your nectar
E’er would I be glad to drink,
Unless some academic lector
Spoil in his alchemic sink.

Alas! Your virtue is diluted
In the bare, postmodern lairs
Of students, teachers, well-reputed
Lectors in department chairs.

O Eden-flower, Eden-flower,
Though your season’s fading fast,
God grant that I preserve your power
In my garden to the last.



Luke Hahn is a twelfth grade student homeschooled in Waupun, Wisconsin.

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15 Responses

  1. Amy Foreman

    Viva la homeschooled student poets! I love the ending couplet in your first poem, Luke:
    “The Lord is master of my fate:
    The captain of my conquered soul.”

    Young people with sentiments and beliefs like you help old folks like me have some hope for the future! 😉

    • Luke Hahn

      Thanks a lot! I can only take half-credit for that couplet, though–its a play on Henley’s

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

      Go homeschoolers!

      • Amy Foreman

        Yes it is; nevertheless, I like your couplet better, in light of eternity . . . .

  2. Anna J. Arredondo

    Luke, I agree wholeheartedly with Amy’s comment. I, too, appreciated that final couplet. It’s about time someone “answered” Henley’s Invictus with a poem like yours. Well done!

    I was not homeschooled but am homeschooling my three, so I join in your cheer, Go homeschoolers! Keep up the thoughtful writing.

  3. C.B. Anderson

    Luke, Go not easily into the temptations post-puberty affords. You will have your day, along with all its pleasures and regrets, and when you are old, like me, you will look back and wonder about the fish that got away, and bemoan your most imperative regrets as though your history were yours to write. If what you’ve written here is from the heart, then please keep writing, for persistence is half the art.

  4. Sally Cook

    Dear Luke –
    The home schooling you are receiving is producing some remarkable individuals, of which you are one of the best.
    As your poetry matures, You are well instructed as to the subtle; I hope you will also keep in mind the sharpness of the occasional direct line.
    Just for your information,when I read the public school books my mother studied, I am amazed at the remarkably high level of expertise she was expected to attain. I n order to graduate from high school she had to have reached college level in many subjects. You may already know this once was the case!
    What I was taught.was not quite so elevated, but still respectable. But the repetitive mix of simplistic ideas and propaganda being forced on children and adolescents today is nothing less than an obscenity deliberately designed to produce an ignorant and easily controlled populace.
    That’s why I rejoice at what I see on your page. We are only here for such a little time, I think we are required to make the most of it.
    You are off to a very good start~let’s see more !

  5. Paul Oratofsky

    Although the metering, language, and rhyming are well done, I feel your first poem is a sad and dangerous misunderstanding and denial of Henley’s wise advice to embrace our own God-given ability to take responsibility for our own lives. To refuse to be the master of one’s own fate and the captain of one’s own soul – seems as serious a denial of a higher power as a anyone can make.

    • Luke Hahn

      Oops! I put my response in a separate comment, and not as a reply to yours. See below–

  6. Luke Hahn

    Thanks for the compliment! I’ll do my best to respond to the critique. (As a heads up, I’ll be using the Bible authoritatively here. We may or may not agree on that use–an interesting discussion on its own!)

    It’s important to figure out whether we’re talking about “mastering” our eternal or our temporal fate. I think Henley’s language seems to indicate that he has an eye on his eternal fate. His idea that one can captain one’s soul into eternity is especially what my poem is against. He seems to think that the grit and determination which got him through his difficult life will also see him through death. However, the Bible is clear that the only way a happy eternity is secured is not by any will or action of ours, but only by the forgiveness which we sinners passively recieve through faith in Jesus, Who conquered sin and death for us. God is in charge here, and that’s what my final couplet emphasizes. (We can of course reject his grace, and in that way “captain our souls” to condemnation.)

    Henley might also be saying we can master our temporal fate, but my poem barely if at all addresses that. And I’m not going to try to here!

    None of those points are a denial of a higher power, but help us appreciate what He has done for us! I hope some explanation has cleared things up. I might be misunderstanding Henley, and if that’s the case I would certainly appreciate correction. I’m pretty new at this stuff. Thanks for pushing me– I enjoy the “ernest” (mind the pun) discussion!

    • Amy Foreman

      Any young person who uses the Bible authoritatively has my attention, Luke! We know that the whole counsel of Scripture teaches that when one asserts mastery over his own fate, it is generally contrary to God’s plan. “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.”

      I think “Victus” is a needed, thought-provoking juxtaposition to Henley’s “Invictus.” In light of eternity, it does indeed matter “how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll.”

  7. Paul Oratofsky

    Hi Luke –

    I don’t get the same reading of “Invictus” that you do. Henley seems to me to only to be talking about his mortal life. The only allusion he makes to anything beyond it is him saying “beyond this place of wrath and tears / looms but the horror of the shade” – but he says nothing more about it, only that it’s unknown (“shade”), and that it’s a “horror,” without saying how he even got such a notion.

    He seems (to me) to be saying only that however difficult life has been for him, he’s remained in charge of himself, and that, if nothing else, is a (his) major accomplishment. I don’t see where you pick up that he’s extending that any further. I see no allusions to “eternity” or that he feels he can navigate that side of things with the same attitude – of being commander of himself.

    His phrase “It matters not how strait the gate” seems like it could as well be “how straight the gait” – but this is a totally different matter.

    On the other hand, your poem “Victus” does seem to deal with matters after life here on Earth. So it looks to me like you and Henley are talking about different sides of this realm.

    • Anna J. Arredondo

      Hi Paul,

      I have been pondering on this for a few days.

      For me, on first reading and every subsequent reading of “Invictus” I find it is more a poem of fist-shaking defiance than a conveyor of wise advice.

      I also don’t find Luke’s poem to demonstrate a denial of personal responsibility, nor a refusal to be the master of one’s own fate.

      First, a look at Henley’s poem. I believe that Henley refers to, or at least hints at, both deity and eternity in three out of the four stanzas of his poem. In the first stanza, from the phrase, “whatever gods may be” he seems uncertain of or undecided about the reality of any higher power or deity. Then, in the second stanza he uses the words “circumstance” and “chance”, sounding more along the lines of the philosophy of naturalism/materialism. In the third stanza, the line you mentioned, “Beyond… Looms but the Horror of the shade” may perhaps be ambiguous, but to me it solidly refers to whatever comes at the end of this life (which to Henley is a “place of wrath and tears”). In the final stanza, with the phrase “how charged with punishments the scroll” he seems again to be referring to some deity, since purposeless forces of nature governed merely by chance would not be punishing anyone.

      From these observations, it seems to me that Henley feels that something — be it circumstance or Providence — is against him, and he is determined to not be defeated by it at any cost. If the naturalistic philosophy were true, and were the sole target of his defiance, I wouldn’t have much contention with his attitude. But his cavalier reference to “whatever gods may be” and his insistence on bearing (rather than seeking to avoid) the punishments contained in “the scroll” causes me to mourn for him rather than hasten to heed his “advice”. I hope at some point in his life he encountered a more accurate view of the God who is, of/to whom John Newton wrote in one of his hymns:

      “If Thou hadst bid Thy thunders roll,
      And lightnings flash to blast my soul,
      I still had stubborn been;
      But mercy has my heart subdued,
      A bleeding savior I have viewed,
      And now I hate my sin.”

      Now, on to my disagreement with the thought that Luke’s poem shows a refusal to master one’s own fate. With his free will, man is absolutely responsible to make the “captain’s” choices for his life, both temporal and eternal (and of course to abstain from making such a choice is itself, in fact, a decision). The Bible is full of instances of such choices, from the choosing between trees in the garden in Genesis to Moses’s charge on behalf of Jehovah in Deuteronomy (“I have set before you life and death… therefore choose life”); Joshua’s well-known “for me and my house we will serve the Lord”; in the New Testament where Paul speaks of his commission “to turn them from darkness to light, from the authority of Satan to God” and elsewhere says to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; finally, in Revelation, John points out that those who [choose to] “wash their robes… may have right to the tree of life — and there we come full circle. Men and women still can and must make a choice — regarding authority, and regarding in whose kingdom they choose to be subjects.

      To be honest, there is something about Henley’s can’t-knock-me-down attitude that has always resonated with me; since I do read it as a challenging of the higher power, I’ve never been able to completely agree with him.

      I’ll end (whew!) this extremely long comment with someone else’s words. I believe that the kind of message you are attributing to Henley’s poem is expressed very well in Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s “Tis the Set of the Sail”, without giving even a hint of defying or challenging a higher power. The bulk of it goes:

      “But to every man there openeth,
      A high way and a low,
      And every mind decideth,
      The way his soul shall go.

      One ship sails East,
      And another West,
      By the self-same winds that blow,
      ‘Tis the set of the sails
      And not the gales,
      That tells the way we go.

      Like the winds of the sea
      Are the waves of time,
      As we journey along through life,
      ‘Tis the set of the soul,
      That determines the goal,
      And not the calm or the strife.”

  8. Paul Oratofsky

    Hi Anna –

    Thanks for spending some time with this exchange and Henley’s and Luke’s poems, and letting us hear your thoughts about it. I too have been processing what you wrote, and rereading “Invictus” and Luke’s poem, and I think by golly you’re right – on both counts. Here’s my attempt to put in my own words what I think you’re trying to point out.

    Indeed Henley seems battered and bitter about his life, and his only consolation is that he hasn’t “given up,” whatever that may amount to or look like. His being “captain of his soul” and “master of his fate” is not that he’s in charge of himself, but that he hasn’t given up, that, just as he says, his “head is bloody but unbowed.” Certainly he can’t be taking credit for what’s happened to him all his life.

    Good job in seeing more clearly than I did here.

    And I think I also see what you’re saying about Luke’s poem – and yes, I think I see your point there as well. Within (under) the domain of whatever created us, we still have choices, regardless of how and where we don’t.

    That poem you quote is strikingly wise to point out that the same wind that one sailor used to guide his ship in one direction is used by others to guide them in the completely opposite direction. How wise that is, and how poetically put.

    Henley seems to have had a rough life – and he’s remained intact enough to at least write this poem – and claim that he’s still able to make choices. He’s not at all had clear sailing, but he’s weathered it all.

    Good job again, Anna. You are one smart cookie.



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