What is the message presented in the poem "If—" by Rudyard Kipling?

Rudyard Kipling's poem "If" contains a thoughtful message about how to live a successful, principled, and happy life despite the challenges that one will inevitably face. The poem emphasizes trusting oneself, being levelheaded and patient, being honest and associating oneself with honest people, and working hard without showing off.

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In the final lines of "If—," readers become aware that this poem is addressed to the speaker's "son." While this can be interpreted literally, it can also be more loosely interpreted as a poem of advice which is presented to a younger generation from a speaker with more life experience.

Life's trials bring wisdom, and that is conveyed throughout the poem. In the first stanza, the speaker stresses the importance of maintaining honor in one's relationships. He advises the listener to be calm when situations spin out of control, to be steady in the face of doubt, and to refuse to return hate with hate.

In the second stanza, the speaker examines the significance of honor. He insists that the listener be ready to face life's "triumphs" and "disasters" with the same stoic response. He understands that the listener will one day find that his own words have been misrepresented, and "fools" will believe those "twisted" lies. His response to those "knaves" will prove his character.

The speaker realizes that his "son" will one day face situations requiring incredible resolve. In the third stanza, the speaker reflects upon those times when he will be asked to force his "heart and nerve" to find the strength to continue on in the face of seeming hopelessness. In his wisdom, the speaker predicts the need for resilience to "hold on" in those moments in life when it seems that all is lost and that there is nothing left except his own resolve.

The final stanza speaks to the importance of relationships with others. The speaker conveys the value in walking with both "Kings" and "common" people. Regardless of company, it's important to maintain his own "virtue" and to refuse to allow either the words of "foes" or of "friends" to tear him down.

All of these bits of instruction are delivered with the structure of anaphora, repeating the same initial first words in many of the lines. This structure creates a rhythm that mimics the steady sense of resilience needed to become a person of virtue. The poem's meter is predictable, and the listener can thus bring a sense of predictability to even the most difficult life circumstances.

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Rudyard Kipling’s wonderful poem “If” supplies a guide for how to live an honorable, successful life.  Written in 1895, the principles that Kipling present still apply to today’s world.  His intuitive solutions to life’s problems have no time, gender, or age.

The poem is written in four stanzas with only two sentences.  The first sentence ends at the end of the third stanza and the second sentence ends at the end of the poem. Each stanza has eight lines. The poem is written in first and second person.  His use of “you” makes the poem seem as though it is addressed directly to the reader.

1st stanza

The word “if” begins every stanza and establishes a condition that the poet assumes that the person will face in life. The first stanza focuses on self-confidence.  Trust in one’s own abilities. A person may be blamed and doubted; it does not matter if the person knows the truth.  Keep an even keel in whatever happens.  Be patient.  Do not listen to lies or work with those who do not tell the truth.  Hate must never be a part of a man’s life.  In addition, never try to show off or be arrogant in talking to others.  

2nd stanza

A man should dream, but he can live on just his dreams.  He must act. Thoughts and thinking are important as well; but there is more to life.

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

Winning is easy.  Losing is hard. Both aspects of life are faced by a person. A man must learn how to handle both situations with grace and go on with his life. 

Sometimes a person learns that people will twist what a person has said and use it against him.  A man may also have something that he has built torn down by fools.  The only thing to do is to kneel down and use whatever tools he has and rebuild what has been broken

3rd  Stanza

Risk and loss are a part of life. If a person risks everything he has and loses in some foolish game, the only thing to do is  start over again.  Never give up and never discuss the loss with anyone.  It is only the individual’s business.

A person sometimes has to work beyond his physical capabilities.  It is his responsibility to work until the goal is gained. There is something in man that propels him forward if he has the will to “hold on.”

4th Stanza

When a man talks in the midst of men, he should not give up his integrity. If he walks among nobility, he must never forget who he is. Pride and conceit are sins.  A man will have friends and enemies, but he must never allow them to harm him.  Other people should be an important part of the a man’s life, but never depend on any one man too much.

Time must never be wasted.  Every minute of every day is important. Never be idle and squander time. If a person can live the life prescribed, everything that a person wants will come to him. In addition, a person will be hailed as a true and good man.

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