What are some examples of personificaton in the poem "If" by Rudyard Kipling?

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mizzwillie's profile pic

mizzwillie | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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In poetry, personification is one of the devices used by poets to make their poems come alive. The definition of personification is when something which is not human is given human characteristics.  In the poem  "IF" by Rudyard Kipling, the author asks, "If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two imposters both the same" as if they are both real people who can be imposters by pretending to be someone else whom you treat equally.  Kipling even capitalizes their names as if they are the names of people; hence, again he uses personification.  He uses the same device when he refers to the Will which speaks to the heart and nerve and sinew and says, "Hold on!"  Personification makes this poem more personal to the reader as Kipling is talking directly to the reader by the use of the word "you."   

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schaefmama's profile pic

schaefmama | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

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I would just add another example of personification from the first line of the second stanza, "If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;" This example gives dreams the human characteristic of being a master, such as in a master/slave relationship.

luminos's profile pic

luminos | College Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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Personification is the attribution of human-like traits to nonhuman subjects. Sometimes writers use personification to describe inanimate objects or nonhuman animals. In this poem, Kipling applies personification to abstractions and intangible phenomena. Most of these cases have already been mentioned. But let's review them, and add an additional example.

1. "If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;"

This evokes the master/slave relationship between two human beings.

2. "If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster /And treat those two impostors just the same;"

"Triumph" and "Disaster" are characterized as if they are people (imposters). And in a longstanding tradition of English literature, Kipling highlights his characterization by treating the words as proper nouns (capitalizing them).

3. "Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'"

A person's will is characterized as having the power of speech.

4. "If you can fill the unforgiving minute…"

The minute is described as "unforgiving" -- a psychological trait.

Each of these cases illustrates the way that personification can make intangibles and abstractions more vivid or emotionally compelling. That's particularly important for a poem that is meant to inspire the reader to cultivate certain abstract virtues. We could easily translate this text into a dry recitation of rules about which abstract principles to live by. But the results would be harder for the reader to process, and less memorable.

For instance, Kipling could have simply told the reader to be productive with his time. Instead, he writes about filling "the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds' worth of distance run." Kipling has created an image of physical striving against a demanding scorekeeper or judge. A potentially dry generalization has been made concrete and visceral.

Similarly, he could have told the reader to approach triumph and disaster with detachment. Instead, he creates an image of resisting the efforts of two tricksters -- a more compelling message.

So these are good examples of personification being used to turn abstract ideas into something more immediate, intuitive, and easy to visualize.

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