McVeigh's 'Last Words'

Timothy McVeigh used "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley, a poem published in 1875, for his last words. McVeigh did not read out the poem, but had it distributed as a written statement.

Like earlier Henley works as "A Love by the Sea" and "A Thanksgiving," "Invictus" is an ode to strength in the face of suffering.


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 inspiration for Long John Silver from Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, Henley was a 19th-century British editor and poet known for his red beard, unkempt hair and unkempt manner.

"It has been said of him that his presence could be felt in a room you entered blindfolded," Stevenson once commented.

Born in Gloucester, England, in 1849, Henley suffered physically from an early age. He was diagnosed with tubercular arthritis at 12 and by age 16 his lower left leg had been amputated.

But Henley went on to write poetry and to edit a handful of magazines, befriending Stevenson and Rudyard Kipling among others. Henley also feuded with Oscar Wilde, whose sensual novel The Picture of Dorian Gray he condemned as "false art and false to human nature.

"Mr Wilde has brains, art, and style; but if he can write for none but outlawed noblemen and perverted telegraph boys, the sooner he takes to tailoring (or some other decent trade) the better for his own reputation and morals," Henley wrote.

A railway accident in 1902 led to a recurrence of tuberculosis and he died the following year.

Observed William Butler Yeats, whom Henley had published: "I disagreed with him about almost everything, but I admired him beyond words."