If— Questions and Answers
by Rudyard Kipling

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What is the purpose of the poem "If" by Rudyard Kipling?  

The purpose of the poem "If—" by Rudyard Kipling is to impart wisdom about how to live up to the ideals of manhood. The speaker lists a number of conditionals, saying that "if" the listener does these things, they will live a fulfilling existence. Embedded in these conditionals is a variety of values, indirectly telling the listener to maintain a balanced set of virtues.

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Alec Cranford eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The purpose of the poem "If—" is to celebrate the values of late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century British middle-class men. These values, referred to throughout Kipling's work, are a sort of neo-Stoicism, in which men were expected to bear hardship with courage, and to always strive towards and defend ideals, even in defense of lost causes. This was a worldview common among the middle classes in both Great Britain and the United States, whose president, Theodore Roosevelt, advocated a "strenuous life." Indeed, the poem was first published alongside an admiring account of the life of George Washington.

That these were seen as masculine virtues is underscored by the fact that the narrator in the poem is speaking to his son. To the extent that young man embodies and lives by these values, the narrator says, "you'll be a Man, my son!" Courage, perseverance, honesty, and ambition are all held up by the narrator as model behaviors for the young man, who, it is not difficult to see, represents all of the young men in Great Britain.

These virtues are military in nature, and, while the poem is often quoted today by those who claim it represents timeless ideals, it is difficult to separate "If—" from the context in which it was written. It is a paean to the rugged masculinity associated with British imperialism and a sense of Anglo-Saxon superiority that called for young men to, as Kipling wrote in another of his poems, "take up the white man's burden" by seeking out a life of valor and hardship. Still, like much of Kipling's work, there is an underlying theme of humility in the face of challenges. So "If—" is intended to promote a set of values that embodied masculinity in Anglo-American middle-class society.

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Everything that is built needs a plan or guide.  Rudyard Kipling provided a blueprint for living a stellar life in his poem “If” written in 1895.  The astounding aspect of the poem comes from the applicability of his rules in today’s society.

The purpose of the poem

Kipling wrote the poem as if it were talking to his son.  He gives advice to help the young man to find his place in the world and to live with integrity and dignity.  The speaker talks to the person in second person.  This encourages the reader to place himself in the place of the son. If a person takes to heart Kipling’s advice, he will find himself in a happier world each day. 

The format

The poem has thirty-two lines with four stanzas.  His first stanza follows the rhyming pattern: AAAABCBC.  The three other verses use...

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