IF (Poem by Rudyard Kipling)

Summary / Review / Appreciation

'If' is a didactic poem by Rudyard Kipling.  The poem is said to be inspired by his friend Sir Leander Starr Jameson who led a failed attempt to seize the Boer armory which led to the second Boer War.  The poet addresses the poem to his own son John.  It contains many characteristics considered essential to the ideal man.

In the first stanza the poet stresses the need to be confident.  But at the same time, one has to be open to criticism from others.  The poet encourages patience, honesty and humility. 

The poet advises his son to dream but not to make dreams his master.  He should think but should not make thoughts his aim.  Dreams and thoughts are just paths to a destination and destination is more important than the path itself. He should be able to treat successes and failures equally. 

In an ultimate expression of Victorian stoicism he teaches his son, resilience.  He should be able to start from square one even when all his winnings are lost.  It is important to have the will power to hold on even in the face of total failure.

In the final stanza the poet teaches his son how to be in the world yet not affected too much by the world around him. Most importantly he should be able to fill each minute of his life with that minute's worth of effort.  Then the world will be his and he will be a real Man. 

Almost every line in the poem starts with 'if'.  Most of these 'if' statements contain paradoxes.  But these paradoxes clarify the message and lend its own force to the argument.  The tone of the poem is hortatory or instructive. The mood of the poem is solemn and sober.  It ends on a positive note with the picture of ideal manhood.  Personification of ideas like dream, triumph, failure and will adds drama to the poem.  The poem is made more personal by the use of the word 'you' to make it a direct address by the author. The poem is written in four stanzas of two quatrains each rhyming ABAB 
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