Week of Masculine Poems: “If”

Week of Masculine Poems: “If”

Background

While Kipling did address this poem to his son as fatherly advice, it is said that he was inspired at the time by Leander Starr Jameson. Jameson led a raid to violently overthrow the Boer government. He pushed to within 20 miles of Johannesburg before being forced to surrender. There was a trial for him but he was already being praised a hero by London. He served only fifteen months in prison. Once out, he had a successful political life, eventually becoming the Prime Minister of the Cape Colony.

If

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

– Rudyard Kipling

Meaning

This poem is pretty straightforward with just describing the ideal traits of a man, at least in Kipling’s eyes. It is important to note how he envisions the ideal man as rather stoic. A man is to be reserve and unaffected by the actions and thoughts of others. Also, everything great about a man is what he can accomplish internally, not externally like wealth or fame.

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