Explain the third stanza in the poem "If" by Rudyard Kipling.

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

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The poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling has a timeless appeal as the poet conveys wisdom from father to son.  Written in 1895, the poem has enjoyed popularity since it was first published.  The poem would be labeled as didactic since its purpose is to impart wisdom to the reader.

Kipling offers insight through concrete illustrations of what a person should do in specific situations.  The choices that a man makes will reflect on his character. The poem’s knowledge can apply to any person, not just to a son.

The main idea of the poem is  to learn to use self-control in all situations.  Do not allow extremes to devalue the important things in life. Each stanza has a specific message which provides guidance in handling difficult circumstances that a person may be challenged by in life. The importance of self-confidence cannot be overstated because that is the aspect of an individual that will stand him in good stead against any foe.

The first stanza explains how a person should act if they face difficult situations in life:

  • do not enter into the petty quarrels that people try to lure a person into when he is accused of lying or deception.  Take the high road and ignore these critics.

The second stanza contains two lines that are found above the entrance to the Wimbledon Tennis dressing rooms:

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

Of course, any sportsman must be able to handle both situations, winning and losing.  However, neither of these incidences are as important as they might seem because both are fleeting and do not last. He further tells the person to use whatever he has to build up whatever is important to him in his life.

The third stanza explains that even when a person feels as though he cannot go on, he must never give up.  Sometimes a person has worked so hard that it seems that he has worn down and cannot continue:

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"


A man should force his spirit [heart],  courage [nerve], and strength [sinew]  to assist him and make the ultimate attempt to rebuild his accomplishments. Even if everything is lost, he should never  lose his passion, his composure and fortitude. Then, do not give up because the determination to survive and master life will help the person.  The poet knew how hard life could be, and he advises that one can never lose hope

In the final stanza,  the poet advises the young man to learn to communicate with the common man as well as kings. Everyoone is equal.  The young man is never to place himself above anyone.

In additon, he explains that he should never waste time.  Every minute of every day is important.  Every second in a minute should be put to laudable use. Admiration of a strong work ethic is reiterated throughout the poem as  a warning against laziness.

This is a poem that should be read aloud. The reader should look at his own life carefully to see what attributes  The poem serves as a road map for life; carefully pay attention to the signs that lead toward becoming a mature individual.

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