Update: To mark the anniversary of William Henley’s birth, Storm would like to hold a poetry event at Invictus at 15:00 SLT on August 23rd. She has a open invitation to Second Life poets and voice artists who would like to attend and read either their own work or that of their favourite poets (“even if it’s Dr. Seuss!” , she told me, eyes twinkling). If you are interested, please contact Storm via note card or via email.
Invictus (Latin: “unconquerable“) is the name of the full region installation by Storm Septimus, which is now open through until the end of 2016. It is a stunning visual interpretation of William Ernest Henley’s famous 1875 poem of the same name.
The poem, untitled at the time of its writing (editor Arthur Quiller-Couch added the title when including it in The Oxford Book of English Verse in 1900), came at a time when Henley was facing severe challenges. Diagnosed at an early age with tuberculosis of the bone, he had lost half his left leg to the disease in 1869, when he was just 20. Rather than accept the loss of his right leg as well, he spent three years hospitalised between 1873 and 1875 while noted surgeon Joseph Lister (ultimately successfully) fought to save the limb, and it was at the time of these multiple surgeries that Henley wrote his poem.
It is this determination of the human will to overcome adversity, no matter how dark, even with the portal of death awaiting, which forms the central theme of the poem. It takes the reader on a journey through life’s hardship, enduring the battering of circumstance and chance, to the recognition that whatever circumstance we face, we alone determine our fate. Dark through the initial three stanzas, the poem emerges in an affirmation of spiritual fortitude; a triumphant proclamation of self-will over fate, and our ability to lay claim to our time on Earth.
It’s a powerful message, and one evocatively presented within the installation, which offers a visual journey through the poem. This begins on the upper floor of a tower. Notes on navigation are presented on a scroll, and touching it will deliver them in note card form – recommended lest you find yourself forgetting directions.
To descend the tower is to descend into the black pit of the poem’s first stanza, which awaits at the lowest level. Outside, the journey continues, winding down a mountain, passing the remaining stanzas along the way, their surroundings reflecting and interpreting each in turn through metaphor and symbolism.
Any attempt to describe this journey is meaningless; it is something which is to be experienced first-hand. There is marvellously expressive symbolism to be found throughout; not only of the poem itself, but also the broader themes encompassed by its verses. Some of this is obvious, such as the giant hands grasping chain reins of great stallions, encapsulating the idea of taking control of one’s fate, reflecting the exultant final two lines of the poem.
Elsewhere, the symbolism is perhaps less obvious. Are the arrows found throughout the upper parts of the installation perhaps be a reference to “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, a line from Shakespeare’s famous soliloquy on life and the nature of death? After all, the latter is not so very far removed from Henley’s own musings on the subject found within in the couplet, “Beyond this place of wrath and tears / Looms but the Horror of the shade”. Elsewhere we might also find reflections on the nature of life and death, and on he times in which Henley lived; the child-angels, for example, might be seen as a reminder of the high infant / child mortality rates in England in the mid-19th century.
This is also, I would suggest, something of a personal statement by Storm. Just as Henley used the poems written whilst hospital to explore his time as a patient, so Storm has used her art in Second life to explore her own circumstance through installations like 2015’s Failure to Thrive, exploring depression, or 2014’s examination of insomnia through The [Void] (which I wrote about here). Thus, within Invictus, it is hard to escape the feeling we’re being given a glimpse of Storm’s own self-affirmation the she, and not the challenges she faces, holds authority for her life.
Across the water from the mountain and tower lies the ruins of a cathedral set within a garden. Storm indicates this is not strictly a part of the poem’s interpretation, being intended for photography and events. However, it would seem to offer both a further motif for the more spiritual lines from Invictus and a contemplation of the calm certainty which follows the poem’s final two lines. To reach it, visitors can either fly or – in a more light-hearted nod to those final lines – by taking the rowing boat waiting at the foot of the mountain, thus figuratively becoming the “captains of their souls”.
- Invictus (Rated: Moderate)