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Poem "IF" by Rudyard Kipling. Summary and Analysis

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Mar is a child educator and an English lit graduate who enjoys reading and writing poems, articles, and short stories on various topics.


About The Author

Joseph Rudyard Kipling was an English journalist, poet, novelist, and short story writer. He grew up in India, which influenced a lot of his work. "The Jungle Book", "Kim", and a number of short stories, including "The Man Who Would Be King" and his renowned poem "IF__," are among Kipling's fictional works.

Theme and Structure

Kipling tackles topics of masculinity and success/defeat in 'If—.' The first of these is crucial to the poem's success. According to the speaker, the young listener must accomplish certain things in order to mature into a man.

The speaker emphasizes typically masculine qualities such as power while simultaneously inquiring about what part women should play in community in today's society.

Rudyard Kipling divides his poem into 4 equal stanzas, each of which contains 8 lines. The rhyme scheme for each verse is ababcdcd, excluding the first, which has the rhyming pattern aaaabcbc.


Analyzing Stanza 1

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:

The if-then situation is put up quickly in the first verse. "If you can maintain your head while everyone around you / Is losing theirs and blaming it on you..." writes Kipling. In this first "if" narrative, Kipling warns the audience of the need of keeping a level head, even when many around him or her don't and blame the problem on them.

It's worth noting that the reader quickly discovers that the poem is essentially just one long sentence. Kipling highlights this by using an emphasis tip of the poem.

The speaker is advising the reader to be patient in these sentences. In furthermore, he warns the audience that even if he or she is lied about, they should not become liars themselves.

Finally, the reader should not claim to be better than he or she is, nor should he or she speak in a way that does not represent who they are ethically or emotionally if he or she is hated.

Stanza 2

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:

The "if" phrases remain in the second verse, although with a different arrangement. With the exception of the final four lines, the "if" clauses were arranged in lines of two in the opening verse.

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The first two "if" clauses of the second stanza take the same style as the second half of the first stanza, where the phrases build on the previous lines. Kipling encourages his readers to dream and contemplate, but not to become so engrossed in them that they lose touch with reality.

It's also worth considering Kipling's pronunciation here. The word imposter connotes deception or deception. Perhaps he employs this phrase to emphasize the transient character of both: success and calamity never last.

He could also be implying that these two terms are frequently associated with disturbance or change. In any event, the reader should not focus too long on either success or failure, as both will go away quickly.


Stanza 3

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!’

The subject in these lines is identical to that in the preceding stanza's last two lines: if you lose everything, you must be ready to start over. Not only that, but you must be willing to put the loss behind you and move on.

Even if it feels physically and mentally (heart and nerve) impossible, the author implores the listener to persevere.

It's also important to note that "Will" is capitalized. Perhaps Kipling intended to underline the human spirit's resiliency by portraying it a strength that exists independently of the individual who uses it.

Stanza 4

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!

The result of performing all of these "if's" is finally disclosed in the lines of the poem, but not before Kipling presents us with three additional alternatives. The first is about how to respect others, irrespective of their socioeconomic status.

It doesn't care who the reader is strolling with; he or she should treat the lowest form and the top of the elite in community with the same respect and care.

He is urging his audience to never give up or lose a single second of their lives. If you're given a minute, make the most of it by using all 60 seconds. If you can keep all of these things under control, you will have the entire world at your fingers.


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