Learning fortitude and perseverance through poetry

Students in Mr. Ian McRae’s seventh-grade Literature & Composition class recently read the poems “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley and Lord Byron’s translation of Horace’s “Odes III.3.” These poems were selected to coincide with recent opening ceremonies, in which we discussed the virtue of fortitude.
"The man of firm and noble soul
No factious clamours can controul;
No threatening tyrant's darkling brow
Can swerve him from his just intent"
–Horace’s "Odes III.3" as translated by Lord Byron

"In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed."
–”Invictus” by William Ernest Henley

According to Mr. McRae, “Invictus” presents readers with a man beaten down by the arbitrary suffering of life. Despite falling in the “fell clutch of circumstance,” he perseveres and does not bow to the source of his suffering. The man of “Invictus” stands up by force of will and an “unconquerable soul.”

Similarly, Horace’s ode praises the just and courageous man who is willing to defy injustice, to not be phased by the darkest of tyrants, and to not surrender to the injustices of the gods. In Lord Byron’s very Romantic translation, the poet views being destroyed by Jupiter — or the fiery end of the world — to be a glorious end for a just, moral, and virtuous man.

Mr. McRae said the class compared these poems and discussed the differences between fortitude and perseverance. They wrote short essays considering these differences and how each poem represents either fortitude or perseverance –– either the active quality of courage or stoic persistence against outside forces.

“The goal of reading these poems was to see courage as taking different forms; to see that there can be an active form of courage with which one goes out and challenges injustice or overcomes their own fear, but also that there is a passive manifestation of courage in not surrendering to misfortune when the world seems set against you,” he said. “Plus, it is good poetry.”
Once the students' essays were finished, the seventh-graders memorized "Invictus" and recited it at a Friday Opening Ceremony.

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