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
Make dreams your master: Allow your dreams, i.e. your wants and desires from life to take control over you
Make thoughts your aim: Becoming so rigid about one’s opinions and thoughts that you cannot take suggestions
Impostors: A person who pretends to be someone else in order to deceive others
Knaves: Dishonest men
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:
In the second stanza, If engulfs within its scope, the correct way to pursue one’s goals in life. Through the first two lines the poet very succinctly explains to us the difference between being ambitious and a megalomaniac. He says that it is all right to have ambitions and dreams in life. However, we must not get over ambitious, i.e., we must not let our dreams and desires take the better of us, such that they end up controlling our every waking moment and change who we are. It is known that ambition can drive men crazy and hence Kipling asks us to practice moderation when it comes to being ambitious. A lot of us suffer from the problem of assuming that our outlook and way of thinking are the ‘be all and the end all’.
This syndrome is referred to as ‘making thoughts our aim’ by Kipling. He says that we must not be very rigid in the way we think and must be open to good influences upon our thinking process. According to the poet these values are important in getting us closer to our goals in life.
Next the poem imparts a very valuable lesson. He says that Success and Failure are a part and parcel of life and there is nothing permanent about them. The poet calls them impostors since both success and failure are powerful and have a disguise of permanence which makes a person feel either too optimistic or broken down. The poet recommends his readers to treat both success and failure in the same way and not let them get to us since both of them are as fickle as the wheel of Fortune.
Next, Kipling tells us that the road to attaining one’s goals is never an easy one and is filled with hurdles to be encountered with such as people who might try to break our moral by misconstruing our righteousness and virtue in a way that can be used against us. The poet asks us to not let the mind games of such people hinder us.
On our path to success we might have to encounter failures which might wipe away everything that we have achieved. The poet’s word of advice for such a misfortune is to never give up. He asks us to develop within ourselves such a potent power of creation that upon facing even the most brutal failures we can start from scratch again.
Poetic Devices: Not make dreams your master: This is an instance of personification. In this particular poetic device nature or any inanimate object or abstraction is invested with human attributes. Here, dream is given the human attribute of being someone’s master.
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster/ And treat those two impostors just the same: This again is an instance of personification. Abstractions such as Triumph and Disaster have been given human attributes by being referred to as impostors.
Hear the truth you’ve spoken twisted by knaves: This is an instance of extended metaphor in which an implied far-fetched comparison is made between two dissimilar things. Here, comparison is being made between truth and a flexible object that can be twisted.
Worn-out tools: Worn out tools here is a metaphor for human potential for creation which has become weak and exhausted after facing a massive failure on the path of creating something meaningful.
Or watch the things you gave your life to: This is a slight instance of hyperbole. When the poet is saying things that a person has given one’s life to, what he actually means is projects or plans that have consumed a lot of effort, time and even money on part of the person executing them.
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