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What is the moral of the poem if ?Just the moral and not the values Please.

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rahuljojan | Student, Grade 9 | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 23, 2009 at 7:20 PM via web

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What is the moral of the poem if ?

Just the moral and not the values Please.

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ssengupta | (Level 3) Adjunct Educator

Posted September 23, 2009 at 10:37 PM (Answer #1)

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I am a bit puzzled by your question. You ask for the moral of the poem, "If." Do you mean the lesson we learn from it? Further, you also say that we, the responders to your question, should not address the values inherent in the poem.

I will try to do as you say; but I do want to make a distinction between moral and values. As far as I understand, moral is our ability to judge right from wrong; values are those things we hold as worthwhile that helps us to tell the right from wrong. That said, let me address the moral(s) expressed in Rudyard Kippling's poem, "If."

The first stanza talks about: a) keeping your head, meaning being calm, cool and balanced, b) trusting yourself when others doubt you, but also give some thought to the validity of their doubts, c) patience, meaning having the ability to wait, suspending your judgment of things for a time and yet not get tired of waiting, d) ability to withstand being hated by others and yet not hate others, e) maintain yourself without trying to look good or wise, or holier than thou.

There are five qualities mentioned in this stanza alone. If you notice carefully, Kippling writes about these qualities, and almost always describes the opposite of these qualities too, either directly, or by hinting. A couple of examples: "If you can keep your head when all about you /Are losing theirs..." Or, "If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,..." These are direct examples of stating a virtue but also mentioning their opposites.

But Kippling often refers to the opposite without actually stating it. Here is an example:

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,

Notice that in these lines, Kippling only refers to the opposite virtues --waiting, being lied about, hating -- without actually mentioning them.

Kippling goes on in this vein for the rest of the poem, mentioning virtues after virtues and contrasting them with their opposites until he reveals in the final two lines  his purpose mentioning all these virtues:

Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

Now, let's go back to the first paragraph of my response, which, at that time, may have seemed irrelevant! I said that moral is our ability to distinguish the right from wrong. These two words, "right" and "wrong" are themselves opposites (or binaries as they are often called) So we can say that moral is our ability to notice the difference between what is right and what is wrong, and describe the differences so that others understand what we value in life.

Isn't that exactly what Rudyard Kippling does in this poem? Separates, almost like a scientist, the values which he holds dear from the ones he does not, arriving each time to a moral?

Thus, the morals Kippling expresses in his poem, stanza by stanza, are numerous.  Perhaps, you can now follow my example and take the ball and run as far as the rest of the poem is concerned. If not, contact me.

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