What does "pitch and toss" refer to in the poem "If" by Rudyard Kipling?

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beateach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the poem “If” Rudyard Kipling is teaching his son the attributes needed to be an upstanding man who is true to his ideals.

In the third stanza Kipling refers to pitch and toss, which is a gambling game. Coins are tossed toward a marker. The person who tosses the coin closest to the marker gets to toss all of the coins in the air and keep those that land heads-up.

He instructs his son in the art of being a good sport with his words about the game. Life is a like a game of chance in which you win and lose. There are times when one risks everything. He counsels if the risk results in great loss, one must move forward without complaining.

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

   And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

   And never breathe a word about your loss;

Life is filled with risks which amount to taking a gamble. When taking a risk, you may win or lose, but it is how you maintain your dignity and ability to move forward in the face of adversity that will bode well in one’s lifetime. There are times when one must remain emotionally separated, and move on.