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 worn-out 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.
Rudyard Kipling may be best known for The Jungle Book, but I have always enjoyed his poetry. Kipling’s ‘If’ is a discourse on the virtues of model leadership and exemplary manhood. The poem celebrates stoicism, fortitude and righteousness as the hallmark of manliness. Through a series of paradoxes, Kipling tells his son how the middle path – a golden mean in everything will serve as the secret key to this world and everything in it.
The poem exhorts the reader to be patient, honest, and forthright, especially when faced with opposition and temptation to act in a less virtuous manner. He may have to face criticism, opposition, lies, and hatred. When others blame him, he must neither lose heart nor retaliate the same way. He must remain confident and believe in himself; yet he must do his best to see the grounds for others doubting him. In all things he must hold on to his strength of character, morals, and to his values, yet he must not look too good or wise.
Stoic detachment to success and failure alike is the keynote of the poem. An ideal man cannot be deceived into thinking either triumph or disaster final. Sometimes he may even have to risk the fruits of a lifetime’s toil, lose everything and start anew when nothing but sheer will power remains. Still he must hold on.
When it comes to people, he must be able to walk with kings and talk with crowds and not “lose the common touch” even when remaining noble of character. All men should be given their due; yet none too much. He should remain upright so that he won’t be swayed or hurt by friends or foes.
Praise of a strong work ethic is echoed throughout the poem, as is a warning against idleness. The poem also places higher value on the ability to act than on the ability to dream and philosophize.
Throughout the poem, Kipling illustrates ideal behaviour and virtue through the use of paradox: righteousness without smugness; detachment while practicing determination; and noble life blended with commonality. The employment of these contradictory extremes throughout the poem serves to illustrate a central theme of striving for an idealized “golden mean” in all facets of life.