What is the meaning of the following line of Rudyard Kipling's poem "If": "Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch"?
When you are trying to understand lines from “If,” by Rudyard Kipling, you have to remember that this poem is meant as advice from a father to his son. The father is saying “if you can be/do all these things, you will be a man, you will be respected.” What this means is that each line is laying out one of the things that the father thinks his son should be able to do or one of the attributes he thinks his son should have.
In order to understand the specific line you are asking about, let us look at it in the context of what comes before it. When we look at it like this, the passage goes as follows:
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
What Kipling is saying here is that the son needs to be able to interact with any kind of person, high or low, without losing his own personality and the ability to act in correct ways.
The first line says that the son should be able to “talk with crowds” without losing his virtue. In other words, he needs to be able to mingle with the common people without becoming like them (the father is assuming that the crowds do not have as many virtues as the son does). The line you are asking about is the converse of this. Here, the father is telling the son that even if he spends time with the most elite people in the land, he should not act like he is better than other people. He should not lose his ability to relate to regular people.
In this line, the father is telling the son that he must be able to retain his own sensibilities and values even if he ends up hobnobbing with the most important people in society. He is saying that the son should not become big-headed or impressed with his own importance. Even if he walks with kings, he should still have the common touch that allows him to relate to regular people. This is part, in Kipling’s mind, of being a person that everyone can respect.
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