What does this line in the poem mean: "How charged with punishments the scroll"? It matters not how strait the gate/How charged with punishments the scroll/I am the master of my fate/I am the...

What does this line in the poem mean: "How charged with punishments the scroll"?

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.

Asked on by rtan6

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mitchrich4199 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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In "Invictus," William Ernest Henley creates a speaker who refuses to give in to the dictates of any other body, whether it be another man or an ideal created by society or religion. The "scroll" in the line that you mentioned is the rules and laws that men must follow. The speaker, in this case, refuses to live by the laws, no matter how much punishment would come at the hands of the law.

The tone of the poem is not one of anarchy or unlawfulness however. This person wants to live the life of a human being and enjoy his own humanity. He "thank[s] whatever gods may be/
For [his] unconquerable soul." We can assume then, that his life or his society or his religion is one that he sees as oppressive. He refuses to be oppressed and this specific line illustrates that he is not scared of the punishments that may come as a result of his refusal.

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andrewnightingale | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The line "how charged with punishments the scroll" is taken from the last stanza of the poem, which is probably its most significant because it essentially sums up the central message of the poem. In this stanza, the speaker confirms his determination to face any encounter and overcome any hardship with courage.

The metaphorical reference to "charged" indicates saturation: there is an abundance of something; it is completely filled up. In this instance it is the scroll (a written or printed document) that is filled with either accusations, indictments, duties, or other burdens that may encumber the speaker. In this particular instance, the speaker mentions "punishments," which confirms the idea that the document (metaphoric or literal) contains a number of sanctions. These could be political, economic, religious or even relate to punishments imposed by society itself. Whichever interpretation is attached would be apt since the speaker is using punishment as a generic term to refer to all forms of sanction.

These sanctions, though, do not deter the speaker, for he is resolute and assertive. He will not allow such penalties, no matter what their number, to determine his fate. He is the ruler of his own destiny, and irrespective of how much he is threatened by restrictions or sanctions, he is in charge and will not bend to the will of another.

When Henley wrote the poem, he was facing adversity of his own. One of his legs had been amputated and he refused to have the other leg amputated as well. He sought alternative advice and his leg was saved. The poem depicts his fight and is the epitome of Victorian stoicism and the display of courage in the most difficult circumstances.

Through the years, the poem has inspired many freedom fighters and political leaders. It was Nelson Mandela's favorite poem and he often recited it to fellow inmates at Robben Island Prison in his 18 years of incarceration as a political prisoner there. A film based on his life also bears the title of the poem.

The title is Latin for "unconquered," which is the theme of the poem.

bloomingrose's profile pic

bloomingrose | eNotes Newbie

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Strait the gate refers to a narrow passageway, charged with punishments the scroll may be a Biblical reference to the sins written down for each person. And I first heard of it in "Invictus," the wonderful movie about Nelson Mandela and Rugby of all things.

bloomingrose's profile pic

bloomingrose | eNotes Newbie

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Strait the gate refers to a narrow passageway, charged with punishments the scroll may be a Biblical reference to the sins written down for each person.

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