What is the meaning behind the poem If?

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The meaning of If by Rudyard Kipling

This inspirational poem was written by the British writer, Rudyard Kipling, in about 1895. He wrote the poem as if he was advising his son on how to find his place in life and to live a life in harmony with others. Over the years, his sound advice has helped many young people. Rudyard Kipling wrote poems, novels and novels and his most famous work is the childhood classic Jungle Book which is loved by young and old alike. Rudyard Kipling was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907.

The poem If is four stanzas long and each stanza is comprised of eight lines. The poem is written in the second person which makes it both powerful and motivational because with the repeated use of the word ‘you’ readers feels as though the poet is speaking directly to them.

Rudyard Kipling advises on how to live life and describes the challenging moments that most people have to deal with and he explains how to cope calmly with each. The scenes he describes that are met through life are both positive and negative ones and he explains how to behave in each situation to ensure the best outcome. The title of the poem makes reference to ‘if a certain situation arises’.

The first stanza immediately captures the reader’s attention with very sound advice – that it is essential to keep calm when those around you are losing their heads and blaming the situation on you. The poet mentions that two valuable attributes to cultivate are trust in yourself and empathy with others so that you can understand their feelings.

In the second stanza, Kipling suggests that it is important to have dreams and aspirations, but also warns that it is also essential to always maintain a grasp on reality. The most quoted lines from the poem are found in this stanza -

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

- this is certainly sound advice and many experts believe that the he uses the word ‘imposter’ to impart the feeling that both triumph and disaster last for just fleeting moments in life. Kipling also warns that there will be times when the reader will find that his words have been twisted to suit the opinions of others. The reader also learns that it is essential to be able to pick oneself up, dust oneself off and start again if something has gone wrong.

The first lines of the third stanza reiterate this advice and also recommend that when you experience failure, don’t dwell on it. Kipling then talks about the importance of physical and emotional endurance and writes the word ‘Will’ with a capital letter to emphasise the incredible strength of the human spirit.

In the final stanza of the poem, Kipling declares the consequences of following his advice and suggests that if his son/ the reader is able to conduct his life as suggested, he will have the whole world at his fingertips and he will have shown that he is truly a man.

When Kipling wrote the poem If at the end of the 19th century it was during the Victorian era and at a time when the world was a very masculine and male-dominated one. Times have changed tremendously since then and the advice given is still relevant in our modern world – both to men and women alike….


If by Rudyard Kipling Print

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