If, Rudyard Kipling – an Analysis


Conditionals. My favourite. If you do ‘a’, ‘b’ will happen.

Gut Reaction
Firstly. Cake.
Secondly. Well. That’s a lot to live up to, isn’t it?!
Not asking much…
No room for error, failure, weakness, otherwise you won’t be a man and you will not have or achieve anything.
This would be a nightmare of an example to use to teach the first conditional…
I really want to love this poem but it all feels a bit… eager at the moment.

What does it all mean?
If this is fatherly advice given to his son, Kipling must have been a helluva father to try to impress.

The world, according to Mr Kipling:

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

Keep calm, don’t let the stress of others or their taking it out on you have any impact on you.

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

Trust yourself even if no one else does but admit when you make a mistake (or rather, allow others their point of view or opinion of you).

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Be patient. Least. Favourite. Saying. Ever.

    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Let people say what they like about you but don’t stoop to their level by lying yourself. Gossip is not cool.

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

Let people think what they like about you but don’t be hateful yourself, yet don’t be too noble or perfect and don’t be superior.

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
Dream big but don’t let it rule your life.

    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
Think but don’t overthink or think for the sake of being right?

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

Embrace your successes and disasters and accept both as part of life.

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

Keep calm when people manipulate or misuse your words.

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

If something you have built or invested in collapses, or something you are passionate about fails, rebuild with whatever tools or means you have.

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

Take risks but don’t risk all. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Or, why not – risk it all. Dare to think big.

And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;

Be willing to lose and have to start over, but don’t discuss your losses.

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

Put your everything into producing a legacy.

And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

Keep hope when all hope is gone. (…sorry…)

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

Be accessible to all, be confident no matter the company, treat all equally, stick to your principles, be likeable.

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
Let nobody upset you.

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

Be there for others but not to the point where you are burdened by them.

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

Make the most of every moment.

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
You can have everything and anything that you want.

    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
And even more importantly, you will be a man. If you want to go all politically correct you could say an adult, but it does end in ‘my son’. So I’m sticking with that.

Form – the vaguely technical stuff
Division and order
4 stanzas of 8 lines.
A long, long list of acceptable behaviours that when adhered to give you all you want.

Teaching. Fatherly.

Suggested rhyme scheme

Didactic, iambic pentameter poem with a mix of end stopped and run on lines, showing both masculine and feminine endings.
Repetition is used throughout with ‘if’.
Alliteration is present in ‘with worn out tools’ and ‘sixty seconds’.

Similes and metaphors
Personification of Triumph and Disaster – metaphor for success and failure.
Earth – metaphor for all – the world is your oyster, you can everything you want.

Author’s relationship with their subject
Feels like incredibly ambitious fatherly advice on a scale of grandeur.

Other points of view (ideas from other sources)
The poem is to Kipling’s son, John, and was inspired by his friend Leander Starr Jameson, a seemingly worthy man to live up to.
It is clear the author wants his subject to do well in life, has big aspirations for him.

Signing off
Remember in Animal Farm when the animal’s motto was shortened from ‘Whatever goes on two legs is an enemy, whatever goes on four legs or has wings is a friend’ to ‘four legs good, two legs bad’? Well. For me, the abridged version of If could be Keep Calm and Carry On.
I know. Unrelated and inappropriate. Just saying.
Okay, so the poem has grown on me a little, although I still think Mr Kipling is being a little overzealous.
Maybe this is the first time a father is holding his baby son, or he’s looking down on him in his cot, and these are his wishes for him. He’s forgot important things like which sports team to support, acceptable music genres, and social faux pas but… All in good time…
To sum up, father takes wrinkled newborn in its onesie in his arms and says: ‘Now then, son. Life’s a bit shit. A lot of hard work and stupid people and trouble and strife. But you keep your head down, your nose clean, work hard, be a good ‘un, and life’s there for the taking.’
Why I have the Hovis advert in my head now, I have no idea.


Rudyard Kipling

Grade Saver



When I read this I think of the song… Simple Man


One thought on “If, Rudyard Kipling – an Analysis

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