If

Tuesday, February 28, AD 2012

The ninth in my ongoing series examining the poetry of Rudyard Kipling.   The other posts in the series may be read here, here , here , herehere , here ,here and here.  By far If is the most famous poem of Kipling’s, written in 1909 in the form of advice to his only son, John (Jack) Kipling, who would die fighting bravely at Loos shortly after his eighteenth birthday in 1915.  The poem was inspired by the Jameson raid,  undertaken in 1895 by Doctor Leander Starr Jameson.  Jameson, who became a close friend of Kipling, became a British national hero by his leadership of the unsuccessful raid which attempted to start a revolt of British settlers, who outnumbered the native Boers two to one, against the Boer government of the Transvaal.  Jameson, who rose to be Prime Minister of the Cape Colony, throughout his life embodied many of the virtues praised in the poem.

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 imposters 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 breath 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!

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2 Responses to If

  • “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 breath a word about your loss”

    I think the pitch-and-toss is explained earlier in the poem. We can’t be completely in control of our destinies – we all experience triumphs and disasters that we can’t control. Every day the things that we’ve given our lives to can be broken. Life is essentially a pitch-and-toss. That being said, the important thing is to respond to one’s fortune with equanimity.

    In fact, the only way that we can avoid the pitch-and-toss which can wipe out the things we care about and have worked for is to not care or work. The moment we commit to something we risk loss.

  • Kipling is saying a real man doesn’t sweat the small, i.e., temporal, stuff.

    Money quote that defines Obama-worshiping liars in the mainstreet media and their treatment of anything not liberal:

    “If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by hellions to make a trap for morons.”