Manly Poems: If-

I love rhyme. Poems with rhyming schemes will, for me, always win over those which have none. For this reason, Rudyard Kipling is one of my favourites poets.

Born in Bombay, India in 1865, Kipling was a child of the Raj. His father was an academic and he spent most of his youth being brought up in England by a British family before going to boarding school and eventually returning to British India. He eventually became a writer, producing such famous novels as the Jungle Book and Kim. In the early 20th century, Kipling’s popularity as a writer reaches its zenith, with the author becoming the first Briton to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907. It was around this time that Kipling wrote what was to become his most famous poem: If-.

In the final line, it is apparent that the poem is being addressed to the author’s son (who would later be killed in the First World War). Rather like Newbolt’s Vitai Lampada, If- is a memorable conjuration of Victorian stoicism, and the ‘stiff upper-lip’ which popular culture has now made into a traditional British characteristic. It offers the reader wise, commonsensical advice about how to take on and deal with life’s challenges. In my opinion, every teenager should be required to study it. If any poem were to be manly, this poem would be.

If-

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:

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 wornout tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it 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!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run –
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!

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