»  Rudyard Kipling's "If—"

 

If—

by Rudyard Kipling, 1865-1936

 

•  Background

This is the third of the three hortatory poems I'm posting, and surely the best known. It has its own Wikipedia page here.

The poem was inspired somehow by Kipling's friend Starr Jameson, who led the Jameson Raid in the last days of 1895. (The raid was by British South African forces against one of the Boer republics. It was an inciting factor in the Boer War of 1899-1902.) The poem's composition surely dates from later than the raid, though. Kipling's son John was not born until 1897, and the poem was not actually published till 1910. Kipling and Jameson were close friends until the latter's death in 1917.

My long take on Kipling is here.

[Added March 2012]

I received the following information from a lady named Susan Bertram:  "A group of 'If—' enthusiasts, myself included, have started a literary journal devoted to the ideals of the poem. We feature poems, fiction, interviews, book reviews, music reviews, and music. I was wondering if you might consider placing a link back to our site at the bottom of your posting of the poem. That way, if someone reads the poem, they may come to our site and find it interesting." Glad to oblige, Ma'am.

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•  Play the reading

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•  Text of the 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 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!