The poem If can be viewed as a set of guidelines on how to live and act with integrity and right values such that one becomes the ideal human. Each of the four stanzas deals with different life situations and the best way to act during them. The poem If does not have a conspicuous physical setting. However, after reading the poem one can visualize a scene in which a father is speaking to his son and giving him the most valuable life lesson on how to become a complete man. The token of personal philosophy and wisdom which the father imparts to his son has universal validity. Read below and refer to additional links for If summary-
IF Summary and Analysis by Rudyard Kipling
Keep your head: Keep a calm and composed state of mind
Losing theirs: Theirs here refers to heads. Losing one’s head means losing one’s calm and composure.
Make allowance: accommodate, consider
Don’t give way to hating: Not allowing oneself to feel hatred
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:
Through the first stanza of If, the poet Rudyard Kipling offers us his opinion on how to operate during times of crisis. The poet urges readers that when the going gets difficult and things stop to work in our favor we must not lose our composure and deal with the situation at hand in a calm fashion in order to salvage it. It is human nature to save oneself the blame for failures and put it on others. The poet asks us to combat this basic human frailty and harbor within ourselves the courage to take responsibilities for our actions that have produced the undesired results just like Jameson did during the raid. During times of crisis, it is expected that people are going to lose their rationality and indulge in blame games. The poet urges us to not give to the same.
The poet asks us to garner enough confidence to believe in oneself and our potential even if the others around us have given up on us. Hence, we see that self-faith is a virtue which Kipling puts forward with high regard. However, the poet warns us against getting over-confident. He says we must have confidence but not blind faith in ourselves as the latter will stop us from giving ears to the valuable suggestions and recommendations of others. In other words, we must make enough room in our heads for opposing ideas from others if they seem legit.
Patience is another virtue which the poet advocates in favor of. The poet says that all monumental things take time and hence we must not get tired of waiting for our plans to achieve full fruition as Rome can never be built in a day.
The poet then points out another human weakness of lying and easily giving in to hatred if something does not appeal to our way of thinking. He says that we must not deal with lies even if the people around us are spreading wrong accounts of as doing so would stop us down to the level of those gossipmongers. Neither should we allow ourselves to feel hatred for others, even if there are people hating us for whatever reasons. Hence, it is clear that through the lines six and seven, the poet is asking us to keep an open mind, untouched by lies and hatred.
Kipling is aware that instilling these virtues in his readers might make them exceedingly self-congratulatory and hence in the last line of the stanza, he asks us to shun any inclination towards abnormal self-regard.
Poetic Devices: If you can keep your head: This is an instance of synecdoche. In synecdoche, one thing is replaced by another intimately associated with it. Here the abstractions, calm of mind and composure have been replaced by the closely related head which is concrete.
When all men…: Here ‘men’ again is an instance of synecdoche. It is the kind of synecdoche where a part is used for the whole. ‘Men’ here actually denotes all of humanity.
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