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