What does the poet say about patience in "If—"?

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David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The appropriate line in the poem is "If you can wait and not be tired by waiting." Patience is clearly a virtue to the old man as he proceeds to give his son some fatherly advice. Waiting is an essential part of growing up. When we're young we're often incredibly impatient; we want everything now. But as we mature, we come to recognize the importance of waiting for the things that we want out of life.

The speaker of the poem, however, wants to go further. It's not enough that we should wait; we should not be tired by waiting. That's a much more difficult task, and entirely in keeping with the demanding tone of the rest of the poem, as the speaker goes through a long list of heroic qualities that his son must display if he's to become a man.

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j-zeiss eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The poem is essentially lines of advice from an older man to a younger man—perhaps even the older man's "son," as is mentioned in the last line of the poem. The voice in the poem has much to say about the virtues of patience. Many lines can be construed as advocating for how patience can see us through the ups and downs of life. Kipling deals a lot in opposites in the poem: sometimes life will reward us, he writes, and sometimes life will punish us. We will make fortunes and lose them, make friends and lose them, build up our bodies but eventually lose our strength. If we can be patient as these waves wash over us—"If you can keep your head" (line 1)—we can stay in control of our lives. Elsewhere, the speaker in the poem suggests that we "wait and not be tired by waiting" (line 5). All things must pass, Kipling seems to suggest, and patience will help as negative things pass and keep us tempered even in our most positive moments. When we master patience, we can master the world and even our own tricky selves.

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