Can I please get a line-by-line explanation of the poem "If—" by Rudyard Kipling?

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Rebecca Hope eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Here is a paraphrase of each line, numbered in order:

1. If you can stay calm when other people

2. are losing their composure;

3. if you can remain self-confident even when others lose their faith in you,

4. but at the same time don't get conceited;

5. if you can be patient

6. and don't retaliate by spreading lies when people have slandered you,

7. and don't hate those who despise you

8. without being a snob;

9. if you can plan ahead without getting distracted by impractical imaginings;

10. if you can be analytical but not overly intellectual;

11. if neither victory nor defeat

12. throws you off track;

13. if you can handle it when people take your ideas

14. and misconstrue them just to cause someone to make a mistake;

15. if you can see your plans spoiled

16. and go back to the drawing board and do it all over again;

17. if you make a foolish mistake by risking all your money

18. on something destined to fail

19. and when you lose your money

20. don't complain about it;

21. if you're willing to push yourself physically

22. beyond what seems to be your limit

23. so that you persevere even when

24. you have no physical strength left, just emotional strength;

25. if a lot of people want to listen to you,

26. and if you have influence among important power brokers;

27. if you're impervious to the wounds of friend and foe alike;

28. if you have people who believe in you without being sycophants;

29–30. if you make the most of every minute given to you—

31. you will have limitless opportunity

32. and, more importantly, you will have discovered what it means to truly be a man.

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schulzie eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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It is easier to give stanza by stanza,but you can separate the sentences and match them to the lines of the poem. The poem is a father defining for his son the qualities of a good man.. He is setting the parameters or boundaries for his son and giving him a goal to achieve.  The poem deals with life’s  challenges and how to deal with them.

Stanza one deals with being confident about the decisions you make and taking responsibility for those decisions. If others, who cannot take that responsibility for themselves  react negatively, you will be patient with them and not reduce yourself to their level by telling lies or dealing in hate. However, don’t ever think you are above anyone else. 

Stanza Two  states that it is good to dream, but don’t let your dreams control your life.  It is good to think, but don’t just think and not put those thoughts into action.  You will experience triumph and disasters in your life, but don’t take them seriously because they are not the substance of life, they are the extremes.  If you hear things you said misused  or things you have done destroyed, you need to be able to pick yourself up and rebuild them with everything that you have left in you.

Stanza Three counsels don’t be afraid to take risks and possibly lose everything. If you do lose everything, don’t talk about it, just start all over again at the beginning.   When you are tired and exhausted and your body just feels like it can’t continue on, use your mind and your will to tell yourself to “Hold on” and persevere. Push through it.

Stanza four deals with a person’s reaction to others.  You need to be able to talk to large groups of people and yet not let them influence your belief in what is right,wrong, moral, or immoral.  You need to be able to walk with men of power and influence and yet not forget the common man and his needs. You need to know yourself and your beliefs so well that neither your friends nor your enemies can hurt you because you know who you are and what you stand for.  People can depend on you, but don’t let others become too dependent on you. You need to live every single minute of your life to the fullest.  If you do these things, then the world is yours, and you will be  a good man.

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