COMMENTARY: “If” by Rudyard Kipling

It’s a pity that so many great poems are turned into commercialized clichés because, when we’ve heard something before, we don’t concentrate hard enough to listen to its messages. A good example is the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling. It includes some of the best advice a parent could give a child, including:

If you can keep your head when all about you/ Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you/ But make allowance for their doubting too,

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, / Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,/ And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream — and not make dreams your master, / If you can think — and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster/ And treat those two imposters just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken / Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, / And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew/ To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you/ Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,/ Or walk with kings — nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;/ If all men count with you, but none too much,

If you can fill the unforgiving minute/ With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,/ And — which is more — you’ll be a Man, my son!

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

 


Here is the full poem:

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you

But make allowance for their doubting too,

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream — and not make dreams your master,

If you can think — and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two imposters just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breath a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with kings–nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;

If all men count with you, but none too much,

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And — which is more — you’ll be a Man, my son!

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Comments 11

  1. Pingback: COMMENTARY 796.2: “If” By Rudyard Kipling - Occupied Wall Street

  2. Truly inspirational and entirely true. It’s always nice to see some universal truths conveyed by the medium of poetry, story telling or movies. Which is exactly why ’12 Angry Men’ starring Henry Fonda is my all time favourite and should be shown on a compulsory basis in our schools here in the UK. It teaches everything about moral courage, tolerance and compassion and every time I watch it….I take a new lesson from it.

  3. A new anthology of Kipling’s verse argues that the poet, far from being the stuffy Victorian imperialist he is sometimes depicted, was a man of fine sensibilities who dealt with the timeless themes of pain and suffering, forgiveness and redemption, love and hate. Concerned with ‘the mere uncounted folk/Of whose life and death is none/Report or lamentation’, he dragged the dirt and squalor of the battlefield into England’s elegant parlours, spoke in the voice of ordinary men and women and berated officialdom for ignoring the poor and hungry peasantry of India.
    Familiarity, the author argues, has dulled the effect of the poet’s most well known pieces, like ‘If-‘ and ‘Mandalay’, while other, equally fine, poems have been neglected. The Surprising Mr Kipling offers, not another selection of the poet’s ‘best’ poems, but one which demonstrates the extraordinary width and depth of his talents and the light which they throw on their great but enigmatic author. The author admits that it is a risky strategy, but it is one that, if judged correctly, could introduce many new readers to the full splendour of Kipling’s verse.
    ‘The Surprising Mr Kipling’ by Brian Harris. Available on Amazon.

  4. I remember reading this as a young person and still enjoy reading and hearing it today. Unfortunately, as the mother of 3 daughters, I am always stopped by the “old fashioned” ending – which I know is a sign of his times and not intended as sexist. Just wish we could replace with a rhyme that speaks to today. Ideas?
    Perhaps:
    If you can fill the unforgiving minute

    With sixty seconds’ effort well compiled,

    Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

    And — which is more — you’ll be complete, my child.

  5. As a young 16 year old in “boot camp” training for the Royal Navy in England, we had the historic Kipling poem “IF” painted on the gymnasium wall. It seems our society is going backwards rather than forwards in culture and literature that passes on valuable advice to those who read it. For me it was impossible to miss and I read it many times. Looking back now some 60 years later, I assess it is piece that embedded itself in my mind and helped focus my life.

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  6. One of my favorite poems from I was Fourteen years of age. I have made special efforts to make it my daily MANTRA. I have also shared this great masterpiece with many of my friends, both young and old. Thank you Michael, for making it available to the world and highlighting its wonderful message.

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