Rudyard Kipling's IF
Posted on 2nd September 2021
Rudyard Kipling’s IF is an unusual verse in that it transcends the parameters of its creation in a way rarely seen outside of Shakespeare with its theme of stoicism and courage in the face of adversity having gone beyond mere words to represent the psyche of an entire nation.
It speaks of the disasters and catastrophes that befall those who take upon themselves great burdens and responsibilities such as managing an Empire and policing the world; to do so with grace, dignity, and the grim determination to overcome and succeed is the measure of a man, of the Englishman, of the Great Briton.
In its entirety and its summation it is Victorian and Edwardian self-identification and beyond to the Dunkirk Spirit, The Few and victory against the odds.
Not published until 1910 Kipling was to say that IF was inspired by the dash and daring of Leander Starr Jameson’s raid into the Transvaal Republic of the previous decade that preceded the Boer War. It references then events long past and failure rather than success but it is in its never-say-die attitude and overcoming failure that IF still resonates.
In national polls IF has regularly been voted Britain’s favourite poem. In 1996 it polled twice as many votes as any other poem a remarkable achievement given Britain’s great literary tradition.
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!
Tagged as: Poetry
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