The first stanza of “If” illustrates the practice of self-confidence and expresses that, in being confident, the reader must have the courage to face unpopularity and disagreement. This stanza also, however, advises against a self-confidence that does not allow for the consideration of opposing ideas. In exhorting the reader to both ignore doubt and make allowance for doubt (lines 3 and 4), Kipling creates a paradox (the combination of mutually exclusive ideas that, while seemingly contradictory, serve to make a point in their contradiction) that is characteristic of the tone of the entire poem.
Line 5 advises patience, line 6 advises honesty, and line 7 advises fortitude of character. These three lines, along with the first four lines of the poem, share a common thread: they provide instruction in the maintenance of righteous behavior in the face of unrighteousness. However, in line 8, Kipling is quick to qualify his advice, telling the reader “yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise.” That is, in behaving righteously, a person must avoid self-righteousness.
The meter of the first stanza moves along at a set and predictable pace. If it were to be read aloud, the smooth pace of the regular meter would reflect a quietness of tone—a tone that reflects the humility Kipling seems to be advocating in the last two lines of stanza 1.
The second stanza...
(The entire section is 901 words.)
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