Many people consider the poem “If” written in 1895 by the British writer Rudyard Kipling to be one of the most inspirational poems ever written. The poem provides advice on how one should live one’s life with restraint, moderation, and composure. Kipling’s poem is addressed to his son to help him understand what it takes to be successful in life and how to handle defeat when it occurs, but the advice can be assimilated by anyone who is reading the poem.
Poetry is an art that lies in the soul and spirit of man since the beginning of times. The writing of great poetry has been a beautiful vehicle for expressing one’s thoughts, observations, historical events, and various philosophies about life. A great poem, unlike a novel or a short story, can be easily digested and absorbed and can become part of us. We can always rely on our favorite poem to lift our spirits up when we are not feeling our best.
Poetry is an art hidden in complex imagery and philosophy. It awakens our senses and gives us pleasure. Its language is charged, intense, and sophisticated and will stay with us long after you’ve read them. Reading poems is a kind of magical experience because they can mean anything, they are for interpretation rather than argument. Understanding their true meaning allows us to connect, relate, and find meaning in our own experiences.
While Kipling wrote poetry, novels, and articles, he is most notably known for his collection of short stories called the Jungle Book. Kipling won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907.
“If” by Rudyard Kipling
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
1. Composure and self-restraint.
Kipling advises his son (and with him anybody who is ready his poem) to move through life with composure and to exercise self-control, integrity, and humility.“If you can keep your head when all around you are losing theirs and blaming it on you.”
Kipling advocates that we should not let triumph nor disaster go to one’s heads. Composure and self-restraint makes it possible to act with dignity in all circumstances and to lead a respectable life. He encourages people to calmy devote themselves to rebuilding their life if it ever goes to shambles, and remain reasonable and diligent even when times are tough.
Kipling also insists that people shouldn’t become too smug about their own measured and virtuous way of navigating life. “Don’t look too good, nor talk too wise.” The idea is to steer away from vanity (in the sense of merely wanting to look like a good guy) in favor of simple level-headedness. People need to find a happy medium between confidence and modesty. Those who succumb to neither vice nor vanity are those who are capable of persevering through hardship “their Will always telling them to Hold on! ”The idea is that composure leads to strength and integrity.
Learn to be confident without being vain. Be confident in yourself and develop your ability to understand others even if that means understanding that people will not always like or agree with you. “If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you but make allowance for their doubting too.”
Have patience. Don’t lie. Don’t hate. Dream but stay grounded. “If you can wait and not be tired of waiting. Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies. Or being hated, don’t give way to hating.”
Success is never final. Failure is never fatal it is the courage to continue that count. Kipling calls ‘triumph’ and ‘disaster’ imposters because both of these events don’t last long. The small triumphs in life should be celebrated and they taste sweet but staying in the hallucination of victory is an addiction and enslavement. Victory and defeat don’t last. This too shall pass. Accept hardship without dwelling on them. “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.”
Be aware of dishonest and harmful people. They will twist your words to serve their own agendas. But deal with them with dignity. “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 broken. And stood and build them with worn-out tools.”
If you fail, pick yourself up and start again, and don’t dwell on your loss. When the going gets tough get tougher. Be resilient. Endure the hard time even if that feels both physically and emotionally impossible. “If you can make one heal 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 for the Will which says to them “Hold On.!”
6. Be authentic, be yourself.
Treat everyone the same the lowest of the low and the highest in society. Display Tender, Love and care but exert detachment when required. “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.”;
7. Know the value of time.
Time is of the essence don’t waste it. The phrase ‘unforgiven minute’ is a metaphor for life. Time is always unforgiving. You can never get back time that has been wasted away. “ 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 this my dear friend is Your Quest.
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