Can you please explain each stanza in "Invictus"?

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andrewnightingale eNotes educator| Certified Educator
In the first stanza, the speaker alludes to the terrors that night holds. It is a dark and horrific place that stretches from one side of the planet to the other. The image conveys an oppressive place so deep that escape seems impossible. The speaker is immersed in this overwhelming and depressing situation but finds solace in the fact that his soul cannot be beaten. He thanks the gods for providing him with such a vital force to overcome his horrific circumstances.
In stanza two, the speaker refers to the terrible fate he has suffered. He fell victim to events which have had a horrendous impact on him. Even so, he has not given any indication that he has been affected by his pain and suffering. He has been able to withstand his desperate condition. Destiny has horrifically and consistently punished him, but he refuses to succumb to its battering. The speaker alludes to a savage attack which fate has launched against him, but he has declined to give in and is determined not to surrender.   
Stanza three suggests a greater barbarity beyond the one that the speaker is suffering now. "The shade" alludes to hell—a place that holds greater misery, pain, and suffering than that which the speaker has endured. The speaker, however, states that all the ignominy and terror that he has faced and could still encounter in the afterlife does not frighten him. He is resolved to meet whatever atrocities may lie ahead without fear.   
In the final stanza, the speaker alludes to Matthew 7 verse 13 of the Bible when he speaks about "how strait the gate." The speaker does not care how narrow the gate to heaven is or how many trials he has to face; he is determined to be in control of his destiny. "The scroll" alludes to the Bible, which states that each soul will have to answer for its sins on Judgment Day and face sanction. The speaker states that he will courageously face whatever penalties there are against him, for only he can and will determine his destiny. 
amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Invictus" is William Ernest Henley's most famous poem. The title, "Invictus," is Latin for "unconquerable. Some say he wrote the poem to affirm his own determination after having his foot amputated as a result of tuberculosis. The poem is famous for its inspirational message and has influenced many historical figures: i. e., Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama. 

In the first stanza, the speaker is in a difficult or terrible state. He is ensconced in "night" with its associations of darkness and/or the foreshadowing of death. He describes this state as if it is deep in the depths of Hell: "Black as the pit from pole to pole." Despite being in this hopeless state, he remains resilient and thankful to the gods for giving him an unconquerable soul. 

In the second stanza, he adds that despite being in the clutches of poor circumstances, he has not "winced or cried aloud." Despite this bad luck ("under the bludgeonings of chance), he is injured but not is not giving up (his head is "unbowed"). 

In the third stanza, he adds that beyond his horrible state, death is looming (getting closer). In spite of this and in spite of getting older ("the menace of the years"), he remains unafraid. 

His path is difficult and the gate he must pass through is narrow ("strait"). Fate has scripted (the "scroll") punishments for him. These things do not matter because he is the master of his own fate, and more spiritually speaking, he is the captain of his soul. In short, no matter what cruel circumstances he finds himself in, he always returns to faith in himself, in his unconquerable soul; nothing can break his spirit and he will always be positive and will continue to persevere. 

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