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How should I approach a line-by-line understanding of the poem "If" by Rudyard Kipling?

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dgkaustav | eNotes Newbie

Posted December 17, 2008 at 2:02 PM via web

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How should I approach a line-by-line understanding of the poem "If" by Rudyard Kipling?

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted July 31, 2013 at 4:09 PM (Answer #4)

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 “If” by Rudyard Kipling was written over one hundred years ago.  Its application may be more relevant today.  The poem serves as a plan for living a life of integrity and honesty.  The father in the poem provides a set of guidelines with which to live for his son. 

1st Stanza

If you can keep your head when all about you
are losing theirs and blaming it on you…

This verse speaks to not losing a person’s temper.

  • The narrator suggests events when the boy may be challenged:
  • When others blame him for something that he did not do
  • A person should trust himself even if others do not but do not be over confident. Listen to what others have to say.
  • Be patient
  • Do not lie.
    Never hate others.
  • Do not become a braggart by showing off his looks or intelligence.

2nd Stanza

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

  • It is good to dream, but there is more to life than dreaming.
  • It is good to think, but the thoughts must be put into action.
  • There are two opposites that a man must be able to master: winning and losing.
  • If a man wins, it is a good thing but it is not the only thing in life.  If a man loses, he must be able to accept defeat and go on with his life.
  • Sometimes people twist what a person says in order to try to make a man act foolish.
  • When a person has worked on something and it is ruined, the only thing to do is to begin again with whatever is available.

3rd Stanza—

    If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

    To serve your turn long after they are goneIf 

Sometimes a man must gamble everything he owns on one thing…if a man loses, then he must start again.  He should not tell others about his loss. 

When a man works, he must give everything he has to it.  Even when the man believes that he cannot do anymore, he must go on until the job is completed.  This shows a man’s character when he is able to never give up.

4th Stanza

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch,

  • A man must be able to communicate with anyone whether it is nobility or the common man.
  • Do not give into petty quarrels with friends or enemies. Everyone should be important to a man, but never be consumed by any one person.
  • A man’s day should be filled with a full day’s work.  Never waste time. 
  • If a man can follow these life principles, he will grow to be worthy man.

What a beautiful poem with brilliant maxims purporting the way for a man to live a mature life!

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