Updated: Aug 8, 2022
Today’s Unheard Poet is none other than William Henley. Originally from Gloucester, Henley was a poet, editor and critic. His father passed away when he was only young and at the age of 12 he was diagnosed with tubercular arthritis. As a result, he later went on to require one of his legs to be amputated, with his other foot only just saveable via intensive surgery.
Whilst in the infirmary healing, Henley began to write poems, including one of his most famous “Invictus” featuring the line
“I am the master of my fate; / I am the captain of my soul.”
Many of his poems depicted hospital life and his experience being in hospital and in confinement away from others and his home. It could be suggested that Henley’s experience draws parallels to many in hospital at the moment, isolated and away from the ones they love.
This poet was painted by Charles Williams, and we are again lucky to have some information written by him about his process, thoughts and feelings whilst he painted this portrait:
“I have painted him as if he were still alive, an ageing hipster with an ironic, Motorhead tee-shirt. I discovered that, as well as being a great icon in his youth he was also one in old age and was the model for a painting called The Man Of Letters by one of my favourite painters, Sir William Nicholson. He had a very characteristic huge hat which he was keen to be pictured with, and indeed he wears it in the Nicholson portrait as well as many other paintings and photographs.”