Pantheons: Sculpture at St Paul's Cathedral (c.1796-1916)

50 Monuments in 50 Voices – W. E. Henley – Nicole Devarenne

Stamped on These Lifeless Things’: Poet Nicole Devarenne’s Response to the Monument to W. E. Henley (1849–1903) by Auguste Rodin (1903)

Silhouettte of a long-haired young woman in left-facing profile
Nicole Devarenne. Silhouette by Michael Herbert
Bronze bust of bearded man on a yellow stone plinth, set in a decorative square-framed alcove .
Monument to W. E. Henley (1849–1903) by Auguste Rodin (1907)
'Stamped on These Lifeless Things' by Nicole Devarenne (50 Monuments in 50 Voices)

Stamped on These Lifeless Things

This subject was no King of
Kings: was poor, sometimes; wrote poems
lacking poetry; lost a
beloved child at five years
old; lost a leg below the
knee. Nonetheless a friend to
art and literature.
                                     But then,
also to war: crazed designs
undoing empire, his queen’s
supremacy. On the ears
of torturers and prison
guards, his jingoisms fell

like music. At mission school,
Mandela and Kadalie
learned his finest poem unbound:
a poem that sings to anguish
as to dreams of doing harm,
to burning veld and poison
ash, in sainthood’s solitude
as in unholy quiet
just before the bomb goes off.

Behind the beat that falls four
times a line, now listen for
the harmony from comrades’
chains, lonely hammer sounding
quarries that will seldom yield.

About Nicole Devarenne

Dr Nicole Devarenne is a writer and academic. A lecturer at the University of Dundee, she specialises in African literature and film, with a research focus on white supremacy. She is currently a judge for the Arthur C. Clarke Award. Her academic publications have appeared in The London Review of Books, Research in African Literatures, Journal of Southern African Studies, The Journal of Commonwealth Literature, A Companion to D.W. Griffith and Black Camera. Her creative writing has been published in Flash, Shearsman and Iota.

Find Nicole Devarenne on Twitter.

About the Monument

William Ernest Henley (23 August 1849 – 11 July 1903) was an influential poet, writer, critic and editor. One of his most famous poems today is ‘Invictus’. He contracted tuberculosis of the bone at the age of 12, which caused him to have a leg amputated below the knee by the time he was 20. He was later to be the inspiration for Long John Silver in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Henley death at the age of 53 was caused by a flare up of his tuberculosis, as a result of a fall from a train in 1902.

Henley’s monument was erected by his friends and admirers. Henley had been an early advocate of Auguste Rodin’s work and the bronze bust that is the centrepiece of the monument was gifted by him. A letter from Rodin was read out at the unveiling of the monument in 1907.