What is the message conveyed by the poem "If," by Rudyard Kipling?

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The entire poem is essentially a single, run-on sentence spaced with commas, colons, and semicolons, listing a series of abilities, habits, and virtues, which will ostensibly give their possessor "the world and everything that's in it" as well as "manhood", for example maturity and nobility of character.

The message is largely a cautionary one against the pitfalls of common human shortcomings, such as egotism and greed. Some of the things mentioned are the following:

  • Remaining calm in the face of stress
  • Moving on after a great loss
  • Always being productive
  • Not putting yourself above or below anyone else

The poem paints this path as one of constant vigilance; those around you, as well as your own mind and body, will seek to tear you down, yet you cannot divorce yourself from those things, nor think of yourself as superior to them. The achievement of "manhood" involves meeting and embracing constant challenges throughout your life; successfully passing the challenge is as important as facing it, because attempting to avoid, prevent or eliminate the challenge will lead to even greater problems.

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Rudyard Kipling's most famous poem, "If," provides the reader with a series of examples about how a person can better oneself and, eventually, achieve manhood. It is written in an instructional tone of an older man offering his personal wisdom to a younger boy. The first stanza warns the reader about the pitfalls of becoming overly self-confident or self-righteous and the difficulty of accepting criticism and opposing ideas. The second stanza deals with public opinion and the maintenance of views that should remain private. The third stanza illustrates the fleeting fortunes of profit and loss. The final stanza reminds the reader not to "lose the common touch" with fellow man. If a person can follows these suggestions, he can become a true leader of men. 

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