If— by Rudyard Kipling
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 impostors 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 on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe 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!
About the Poem
One of the most famous poets of the late British Empire, Rudyard Kipling, published “If—” in his 1910 book Rewards and Fairies. The speaker of the poem advises his son to live with restraint, moderation, and calm.
The speaker advises the son to keep his wits about him at all times, never overreacting; he should learn to be confident without being vain, to accept difficulties without dwelling on them, and to behave with dignity.
The speaker suggests that living this way will turn the son into a true man. This is a poem about an idealized kind of self-sufficient male virtue, written not just from a father to a son, but from Father to Son.
Its worldview is heavily influenced by Stoicism, an Ancient Greek philosophy that encourages people to live without being influenced by pleasure or pain—a viewpoint that appealed to English writers like Kipling and contributes to the stereotype of the British “stiff upper lip.”
Summary of the Poem
Throughout the poem, the speaker provides the reader with a variety of scenarios, both positive and negative, as well as insight into how one should conduct oneself.
With its if-then scenario, the poem is almost mathematically proven. Kipling withholds the “then” until the final two lines, revealing to the reader that if he or she is able to do everything mentioned above, he or she will not only have the world at his or her fingertips but he or she will also be a “Man.”
Kipling explores themes of masculinity and success/defeat in ‘If—.’ The first of these is extremely important to the poem.
According to the speaker, the young listener must do certain things in order to mature into a man. The speaker celebrates traditionally masculine characteristics such as strength while also raising questions about the role of women in society in a contemporary setting.
The speaker’s motivational message for the young listener is the source of the poem’s “inspirational” aspect. He assists this young man in trying to understand what it takes to be successful in life and how to deal with defeat when it occurs, which the speaker predicts will happen.
Structure and Form
Rudyard Kipling divides his poem into four equal-length stanzas, each of which contains eight lines. Except for the first stanza, which has the rhyme scheme aaaabcbc, each stanza follows the rhyme scheme ababcdcd.
The poem is written in iambic pentameter, with five feet consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. The poem’s speaker, presumably Kipling, maintains a positive and upbeat tone throughout the work, informing the reader of what he or she must do to be a successful person in life.
Kipling’s use of the pronoun “you” makes this a very personal poem. In fact, the poem could be interpreted as Kipling talking to himself or giving himself a pep talk.
In ‘If—,’ Kipling employs a number of literary devices. Repetition, anaphora, enjambment, and caesura are examples of these. The latter is a formal device used by poets to insert a pause in the middle of a line. This could be done with punctuation or meter. Lines one and two of the second stanza, for example, read:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim.
The reader is immediately struck by the word “If—” upon reading the poem. Not only is it the title of the poem, but Kipling emphasizes the word throughout the poem by using repetition.
This makes the poem move because the reader is working his or her way through it to get to the effects of what will happen if he or she accomplishes everything mentioned. Kipling does not let us down. In the final two lines of the work, the reader learns what will happen.
Similarly, the use of the word ‘if’ is an example of anaphora. This is because the word ‘if’ is repeated at the beginning of many of the poem’s lines, creating both a sonic effect and a listicle-style poem (you have to do all of these things to be considered a man at the end of the poem).
Another intriguing device is enjambment, which occurs when the poet cuts off a line before the natural stopping point of a sentence or phrase. For instance, the transition between lines two and three of the second stanza and one and two of the third stanza.