December 6, 2007 | By: John Piper
The only statement Timothy McVeigh left behind when he was executed in Indiana, June 11, 2001, was a handwritten copy of the 19th century poem “Invictus” by William 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.
Henley’s life (1849-1903) almost exactly parallels that of Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) who said that the modern world had rendered God irrelevant so that we could legitimately say, “God is dead.” Corresponding to God’s demise was the rise in Nietzsche’s thinking of the “Übermensch.” This was the air that Henley breathed.
Would that Nietzsche, who went insane the last 12 years of his life—and Timothy McVeigh, who claimed the rule of his soul till he lost it—had both seen the beauty of being ruled by Christ. It is fitting that a virtually unknown poet of the early 20th century, Dorothea Day, should write the counterpoint to Henley’s poem. “Invictus” means “unconquerable”. Dorothea Day’s poem is called “Conquered.”
Out of the light that dazzles me,
Bright as the sun from pole to pole,
I thank the God I know to be,
For Christ – the Conqueror of my soul.
Since His the sway of circumstance,
I would not wince nor cry aloud.
Under the rule which men call chance,
My head, with joy, is humbly bowed.
Beyond this place of sin and tears,
That Life with Him and His the Aid,
That, spite the menace of the years,
Keeps, and will keep me unafraid.
I have no fear though straight the gate:
He cleared from punishment the scroll.
Christ is the Master of my fate!
Christ is the Captain of my soul!