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What techniques does the poem 'If' by Rudyard Kipling use to get his message across?

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amandaramos | Student, Grade 9 | eNotes Newbie

Posted August 3, 2010 at 6:21 PM via web

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What techniques does the poem 'If' by Rudyard Kipling use to get his message across?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 2) Distinguished Educator

Posted August 4, 2010 at 3:23 AM (Answer #1)

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In his inspiring poem, "If," Rudyard Kipling makes use of many rhetorical devices among which are anaphora, anastrophe, antithesis, assonance,climax, hendiadys, hyperbole, metaphor,personification,and syllepsis. 

Here are examples of these aforementioned rhetorical terms:

1.  Anaphora - The repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive phrases, clauses, or lines.  (This is been thoroughly covered by the previous poster)

2.  Anastrophe - Transposition of normal word order

"Yours is the Earth...."

3.  Antithesis - Opposition, or contrast of ideas or words in a balanced or parallel construction.  There are numerous examples of this

"If all men count with you, but none too much"

4.  Assonance - The repetition of the same sound in words close to each other.

"And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise"

5.  Climax - Arrangement of words, phrases, or clauses in an order of ascending power.  Often the last emphatic word in one phrase or clause is repeated as the first emphatic word of the next.

The last stanza exemplifies this term.  The poem is very moving because of this build-up.

6.  Hendiadys - Use of two words connected by a conjunction, instead of suordinating one to the other, to express a single complex idea.

There are numerous examples of this term, as well.  Here is one:  "Or walk with Kings-nor lose the common touch"

7. Hyperbole - Exaggeration for emphasis or for rhetorical effect

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,/'Or walk with Kings- nor lose the common touch"

8. Metaphor - Implied comparison achieved through a figurative use of words

"Twisted by knaves (metaphor for people of low character) to make a trap for fools"

9. Personification -  Attribution of personality to an impersonal thing

"If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster"

10.  Syllepsis - The use of a word with two others, each of which is understood differently.

"If you can dream - and not make dreams your master"

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akannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted August 3, 2010 at 11:23 PM (Answer #2)

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I would say that the use of repetition is one way in which Kipling is able to get his message across to the reader.  The idea of being able to suggest to the listener of the poem how one can "be a man" through a series of operational definitions is effective.  Kipling illustrates situations where the listener could find themselves.  These situations are ones in which conflict is experienced and the essence of the idea is to be able to make a choice.  One of the choices is easier than the other, but the lesson of maturity is only learned when the more difficult of the two paths is selected.  The repetition of the word "If" in addressing the various situations helps to bring the idea that choices and contexts are conditional.  Individuals must be able to have the intestinal fortitude and wherewithal to face them and be able to make the right choices in terms of progressing on the path of maturation and character development.  In reciting these to the reader/ listener with the constant use of the conditional in them helps to reinforce the attempt at universality in the poem.

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