What is the mood and tone of the poem "If" by Rudyard Kipling?

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If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

These are two of the most famous lines of poetry in the English language.

Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” finds a place in the heart of anyone who reads it.  There is an ageless appeal when a father gives a son advice. However, Kipling’s guidance can be applied to everyone’s life.  Living a life of restraint and self-confidence is found at the core of his message.  The poem written in 1895 still rings true with authentic advice.

Tone and mood

The tone of the poem centers on love, sincerity, and restraint.  There are no overly affectionate words, yet the message of the poet comes from the emotional tie to a child’s welfare. The speaker wants his child to do well in life.  By using the second person point of view, the reader feels that the poet is speaking directly to him; thus, he is drawn into the midst of the poem’s alluring meaning.

What more can the father give his son than to provide the path for him to achieve his every dream! As an example of the mood of the poem, think  of the mother bird who pushes her baby out of the nest--she more than just hopes that he flies. She has prepared him for his flight by modeling, coaxing, and instructing. The father in the poem sets the same tone for his son.


What are the insights into life that the father gives his son?

1st stanza

  • Keep on task
  • Trust yourself
  • Control your emotions
  • Forgive those who try to harm you
  • Never use what you have arrogantly

2nd stanza

  • Dream and wonder, but not to excess
  • Never let winning and losing expose your weaknesses
  • Do not let others control your behavior
  • If your dream is crushed, then go back to work and rebuild it

3rd stanza

  • When you risk what you have and lose it, start over again but tell no one
  • Even when our body wants to yield to its limitations, never give up
  • Use your inner strength and hold on

4th stanza

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings---nor lose the common touch,

  • Be able to communicate with anyone regardless of their status
  • Never forget that you are no better than the lowest man
  • Friends are important but self-reliance is more valuable
  • Use every minute of every day—waste not a second
  • If you live your life in this manner, then the earth is your oyster.
  • Men will respect you and think of you as a “man.”

Gentleness,  kindness, forgiveness, respect, self-confidence—these are the attributes that Kipling advises a man [or simply a human being] to etch into his brain, heart, and soul who wants to lead a “life well-lived.”

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