Morgan Freeman Masterfully Recites Nelson Mandela’s Favorite Poem, “Invictus”

Nel­son Man­dela, who died on Decem­ber 5, 2013, had spent more than a quar­ter of his life serv­ing time in var­i­ous jails. While behind bars for the 18-year peri­od between 1962 and 1980, the anti-apartheid rev­o­lu­tion­ary edu­cat­ed both him­self and oth­ers to pre­pare for the advent of mul­tira­cial equal­i­ty in South Africa. Dur­ing his con­fine­ment at the Robben Island prison, Man­dela stud­ied law by cor­re­spon­dence at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Lon­don, learned Afrikaans to fos­ter a rap­port with jail­house war­dens, and was instru­men­tal in launch­ing the “Uni­ver­si­ty of Robben Island”, where pris­on­ers pos­sess­ing exper­tise in par­tic­u­lar fields pre­sent­ed lec­tures to their fel­low inmates.

Mandela’s stay, how­ev­er, was fre­quent­ly marred by demean­ing and deplorable treat­ment. Ini­tial­ly, black pris­on­ers were humil­i­at­ed by being giv­en shorts, com­mon­ly worn by chil­dren, rather than full-length pants as uni­forms. Man­dela was also for­bid­den from wear­ing sun­glass­es when forced to labor at a lime­stone quar­ry, and the harsh reflec­tions from the rocks dam­aged his vision. The quar­ry dust also dam­aged his tear ducts, which made it impos­si­ble for him to cry until receiv­ing cor­rec­tive surgery in 1994. Per­haps the most painful moments arrived in the late 1960s, when Man­dela lost his moth­er and first­born son, and was denied per­mis­sion to attend their funer­als.

In spite of these ordeals, Man­dela per­se­vered. In an inter­view with Char­lie Rose, above, Mor­gan Free­man dis­cuss­es Mandela’s reliance on William Ernest Henley’s 1875 poem, “Invic­tus,” to keep his hope alive:

“That poem was his favorite… When he lost courage, when he felt like just giv­ing up — just lie down and not get up again — he would recite it. And it would give him what he need­ed to keep going.”

Free­man, who played Man­dela in the 2009 film Invic­tus, also pro­vides a solemn and dig­ni­fied recita­tion of the poem begin­ning at 3:51. Although the poem is best known for pro­vid­ing suc­cour to Man­dela in times of despair, its words of courage have served as inspi­ra­tion to count­less oth­ers. Famous fig­ures who have drawn hope from “Invic­tus” include the father of Burmese oppo­si­tion leader Aung San Suu Kyi dur­ing his strug­gle for Burmese inde­pen­dence and ten­nis cham­pi­on Andre Agas­si. Rumor has it that U.S. Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt was also quite fond of it. We’ve includ­ed the full text for “Invic­tus” below:

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.

H/T to Bruno, one of our read­ers, for send­ing this video our way.

Ilia Blin­d­er­man is a Mon­tre­al-based cul­ture and sci­ence writer. Fol­low him at @iliablinderman.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Nel­son Mandela’s First-Ever TV Inter­view (1961)

U2 Releas­es a Nel­son Man­dela-Inspired Song, “Ordi­nary Love”

Nel­son Man­dela Archive Goes Online

Find “Invic­tus” in our Free Audio Books and Free eBooks col­lec­tions.

by | Permalink | Comments (11) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (11)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Seamus O'neill says:

    What a great pity Man­de­la’s human­i­ty did­n’t strtch to sav­ing inno­cent babies lives ‚as he was the great leader who inro­duced abor­tion and pro­te­tion for sex per­verts inshined in law in south africa thus kil­ing 1.3 mil­lion inno­cent babies some lega­cy to leave .and as for Mor­gan Free­man i real­ly am so dis­ap­point­ed you could praise such a man for this evil he per­pet­u­at­ed on his own peo­ple.

  • Lee Trentadue says:

    Great inter­view and very mov­ing to know that a poem sus­tained this incred­i­ble man…during his dark­est hours.

  • Erlend says:

    “the 27-year peri­od between 1962 and 1980”

  • The man in the arena says:

    He recites it wrong in the video and in the movie says fate instead of chance

  • elaine says:

    what this has noth­ing to do with poem Invic­tus.

  • davenport says:

    how could you say that Man­dela is a bad per­son you troll, he saved rape vic­tims and babies tech­ni­cal­ly weren’t even born yet so they real­ly did­n’t die.

  • Ash Shapre says:

    Hey thats pret­ty good.

  • ow says:

    ow OW OUCH OW

  • wawawawa says:

    wawawawawaw ur gr0ss

  • Jan says:

    You want to talk about some­thing, talk about the injus­tice of Man­dela being impris­oned for want­i­ng to live free. Talk about being jailed for­vover a quar­ter of his life, just being black, you trolls. Know­ing ALL civ­i­liza­tion start­ed in Africa, real­ize that EVERy­ONE has traces of Africa in their DNA. So you want to start a con­ver­sa­tion, I’ll give you one.

  • Susan says:

    No woman should have to car­ry a rapists child. But it should be abort­ed imme­di­ate­ly. Abor­tion is not birth con­trol.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.