English 113 9 November 2012 Poetry Analysis by Rudyard Kipling “If” As I analyze this poem, I get a sense of life’s challenges and how someone can overcome those who refuse to take accountability for their own actions. Considering the poem using point of view, I wonder whether it is being told from the point of view of Rudyard Kipling or not. Is “If” the story of Kipling himself? Is it an ideal he aspired to or something he attained? If he did attain it, is it something he attained and knew he attained it, or something he attained and still didn’t realize it?
Perhaps the answers to some of those questions are beyond the scope of this paper, but Kipling’s life can help us understand the poem more completely. Kipling was born in Bombay, India, in 1856. He always had tales that he was writing for children, including his own children (Poetry Foundation). Sadly one of his children died at the age of eighteen, fighting the Irish Guards (Bhaskart, Rao). Kipling himself suffered bullying growing up and was often punished by his parents.
This poem expresses the importance of an individual taking and accepting the responsibility for their own lives—including their mistakes—and not blaming others. The poem has two important lessons. The first is that we are all equal. Don’t put yourself above anyone else, but know that you are just as good as everyone else, so don’t let anyone else put themselves above you. The second is that you should believe in yourself, even when everyone doubts you. Don’t believe in lies people say about you—or about anyone else. Tell the truth, believe the truth, and behave truthfully, not matter what those around you do.
These lessons come from the point of view of a father instructing his son; naturally, we could also look at it as coming from the point of view of any older man to any younger man—an emotional or spiritual father-son relationship—but it seems the intent of the author was clear that this poem was directed to his physical son. This poem is a beautiful personal goal and an inspiration for anyone who wishes to be a better individual; it acts as light on a dark night. It is exactly the kind of talk a father might give to his son about growing into a good man.
People sometimes talk about becoming productive members of society, but Kipling seems to take a different approach in this poem. Making “one of of all your winnings” and risking “it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,” and then losing it all and having to “start again at your beginnings” (lines 17-19)—this kind of encouragement hardly seems like it’s rooted in productivity being the measure of a man. Instead, Kipling talks about the importance of making the right choices, and how those choices can have a huge effect on someone’s life.
The poem also says to have confidence in your actions and to not allow anyone to say that you cannot do it. Don’t let anyone push you down, Kipling says, or doubt your competence, and don’t let those people stop you from reaching your goals. “If you can dream and not make dreams your master” talks about daring to dream; yet not letting that dream control your life (Paul, Halsall). Accept your dreams as yours; however, don’t mistreat others to get there. Again using lines 17-19 as our evidence, we see that Kipling also suggests that we must always learn from our mistakes and not ignore them.
Line 20 describes his interpretation of this kind of behavior: “Never breathe a word about your loss. ” We all have a lot to learn. We can learn from bad choices, by not committing the same mistake again, but complaining about our mistakes or our losses does no one any good. If there are roadblocks in your path of life, it is okay to make adjustments to your course and sometimes even to make U-turns; however, use it as learning a lesson for what is to come: 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. (13-16) The most important lesson here is to never give up. It is very hard to get back on your feet after life has beaten you into the ground. If circumstances throw you off, get back on your feet and don’t let that cheat you out of reaching your goals. Instead, put all the broken pieces together to make you a stronger person. When you are stronger it is easier to encounter life’s challenges. In two sections, the poem also talks about recognizing the truth and speaking the truth, and how the truth can affect both you and those around you.
In the first, Kipling addresses the mindset he wanted his son to have when doubts and lies were directed at him: 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. (3-8) Believe in yourself, Kipling says, even when everyone doubts you; don’t believe the lies people say about you or anyone.
The second section that deals with honesty deals more with a person being honest with himself: 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. (11-14) Kipling continues this theme in the fourth stanza: “If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, / Or walk with Kings, nor lose the common touch. ” Strive to be successful, but don’t let being successful fool you. Continue to help others and be nice to them.
Don’t get lost in the world of money and luxury. Help others who need you. Don’t be selfish and concentrate only on your needs and wants (Paul, Halsall). We might use the phrase today, “Be true to yourself. ” As Shakespeare in one of his plays had a father (Polonium) advise his son (Laertes): “This above all: to thine own self be true, / And it must follow, as the night the day, / Thou canst not then be false to any man” (Hamlet 1. 3. 78–82). Being kind and true to yourself, your family or anyone that walks in your life, can bring you many rewards.
My analysis of this poem might be different from other analysis that you may have read, but it is my understanding of it and how I took this poem and put it on my life. Kipling was very realistic and clear in his words, and everyone can learn something from it. This poem was written in 1910 and it still applies today. No matter how many years have passed since it was written, it can always be applied to anyone, anywhere, and anytime. This poem, in general, is about living by what is often called the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Think about the bad you don’t want for yourself and don’t do it to others.
Above all odds—and above his troubled childhood—Rudyard Kipling became a courageous and honest man. He knew how hard life can be, so he wrote this poem to his son teaching him solutions to life’s problems. That was the main reason he wrote this poem: He wanted his son to become a good man (poetry foundation). According to Kipling, getting through this life with all the challenges, good or bad, and making the right choices and being proud of yourself, being happy with your winnings, and learning from your mistakes these will help you achieve the best reward: to be a man (Geofrey, Wansell).
Work Cited Geofrey, Wansell. “The Remarkable Story Behind Rudyard Kipling’s If. ” Daily Mail. 15 Feb. 2009. Web. 8 Nov. 2012. Paul, Halsall. “Modern History Source Book. ” Rudyard Kipling: If. July 1998. Web. 8 Nov. 2012. Poetry Foundation. Web. 8 Nov. 2012. Rao, K. Bhaskara. “Rudyard Kipling. ” Critical Survey Of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition (2010): 1-7. Literary Reference Center Plus. Web. 7 Nov. 2012.
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