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
Pitch and toss: A game based on luck in which you have equal chances of winning or losing
Sinew: That tissue of the body which unites the muscle and the bone
Serve your own: Work for you or in your favor
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe 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!”
In the third stanza, Kipling furnishes his readers with the very important life advice of never giving up! Life is unpredictable and filled with ups and downs. Trying to make one’s mark in the world is nothing short of a gamble. The poet asks us not to be shy away from challenges just because we are scared that we might lose what we already have. He says that the ideal man is the one who can put all of his life’s achievements at risk, while aiming towards bigger goals. It takes immense strength of mind to shake off a loss in order to keep going but a complete man is the one who does not cry over spilt milk and starts afresh from scratch even after being completely snubbed and broken.
Towards the end of the stanza, Kipling adds that will power is the only key to persistence in spite of loss. If a man is determined, he can make his heart, nerve and sinew serve him even in the most down trodden and bleakest of times when everything seems to be going against his favor.
Poetic Devices: If you can make one heap of all your winnings/And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss: The first line is an instance of the poetic device of vision in which an imaginary picture is penned by the poet. Here, we see the image of a man stacking all his life’s achievements in a heap. In the second line, the act of trying to become successful in life has been compared to a gambling game. These two lines are together an instance of the poetic device of periphrasis in which a simple statement is expressed in a round-about way for beauty’s sake. Through these elaborate lines, the poet is simply trying to say that one can only get successful by taking risks.
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew/To serve your turn long after they are gone: Heart, nerve and sinew are metaphors for human potential and caliber. They have also been personified by being given the human attributes of serving someone.
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on: Will has been personified here as it has been shown by the poet as performing the human action of saying.
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