A lot of persons are not disposed to poetry because of its complex form. There are however a lot of poems out there, that cannot be ignored. We will see how we can make poetry a more enticing genre over time.

So here is an examination of a poem, which has over the years occupied my subconscious and led me like a mother would, a son.

‘IF,’ is an inspirational poem rich in words and wit. It is a poem that should be framed and hung on bathroom walls, living rooms, door post and even pedestrian bridges. There were times when hope became for me vague, almost incomprehensible, distant image on the horizon. Days like that I held onto not just ‘IF,’ but loads of like poems and gradually strength returned to my soul.


Kipling writes thus:

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

The poet here urges his readers to as much as possible, to hold their own, keep their heads and remain as calm as possible, even when others are losing theirs and blaming it on them. He says candidly, maintain your sanity, even when surrounded by a community of mad people.

He writes again in the last two lines of the first stanza thus:

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too

In the above lines, Kipling is asking his readers to be confident in themselves, but in been confident, one must also consider the criticism of others. Put otherwise, trust yourself, but in so doing; listen to others, learn, for no man is an Island.

He delves further:

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:

Kipling keeps dishing out advice after advice that could be alluded to biblical statements, with the help of the conditional word ‘IF.’ Here again he advices his readers, not to get tired of waiting or being lied about, regardless, do not trade in lies. Stay honest Kipling says in plain English. Do not hate he expands, even when you are hated and as much as possible, stay humble. Do not look down on others.

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He goes further to remind his readers that it is important to dream; have dreams, thoughts, but it is more important to go about realizing those dreams, putting those thoughts into action.

He writes thus:

If you can dream- and not make dreams your master,

If you can think- and not make thoughts your aim’

The other lines on this stanza convey Kipling’s message in a different way thus;

If you meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same,

Kipling personifies Triumph and Disaster here, asking his readers to treat them just the same, as they both tend to be transient phases in our lives.

In the same measured tone, Kipling keeps on inquiring and urging the readers thus:

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 life to, broken,

And stoop and build them up with worn out tools;

Here he is saying, you have to have the heart to bear the lies told against you. You should be ready to bear the hurt and disappointment that is most certain to come from the things you love, yet, ‘stoop and build them up with worn out tools.’

The Nobel Laureate opens the fourth stanza of this elegantly written poem thus:

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;

Listen intently to what Kipling is saying. He is pointing out in these lines, the need to rise after a fall. Of course there will always be falls, for without them there can be no rise. But you must be willing to rise after each fall, having in mind that it ends, the moment you decide not to rise after a fall.

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The next four lines of this stanza reads thus:

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!’

Endurance is the theme in these lines. Hold it out, persevere, be consistent, Kipling’s voice echoes these words in the most salient of ways.

In the last stanza, Kipling reveals to his readers the benefits of having all the virtues he has urged them from the very first stanza to possess. He writes thus:

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtues,

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 is in it,

And which is more- you’ll be a Man, my son!

Rudyard Kipling received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907, at the age of 41, making him the youngest to have ever received the prize to date.