What are some poetic devices for the poem "If" by Rudyard Kipling? Please identify and provide examples.

Expert Answers
tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Rudyard Kipling's "If" employs many different devices. Three of those devices include iambic pentameter, paradox, and didacticism. The poem has four octaves written in iambic pentameter. (Incidentally, Shakespeare's sonnets are famous for using iambic pentameter, too.) The use of this meter provides a rhythm that is closely linked to the way people speak the English language. As a result, it can bring out a sing-songy rhythm that is pleasing to read aloud or hear performed. One of the best lines that demonstrate iambic pentameter's unique rhythm is as follows:

"And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise."

Next, examples of life's paradoxes are used to make the point that we may encounter contradictory extremes in life; however, we shouldn't get caught up in them. For example, the following excerpt explains how to deal with life after a big win and a subsequent severe loss:

"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;"

Not only is it possible to succeed in life, but it is also possible to lose. The above passage demonstrates that both good and bad things come and go in life, so we shouldn't get caught up or held back by either one of them. Also, as paradoxes can point out, life can be one contradiction after another, so if we are prepared for such events, then we might not feel as overwhelmed or discouraged when they come our way.

Finally, Kipling's "If" is a didactic poem. This means that the poem is used as a device to instruct or teach a moral lesson. That lesson centers around imparting a lot of wisdom that the speaker has collected over the course of his life. If a young person can understand a few concepts about dealing with life before having to learn them the hard way, then the poem has done its job. Its job, then, can be found in the last lines, which also signify the speaker's purpose for saying everything he does:

"Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!"

From the last lines, it seems clear that Kipling's purpose of was to teach boys what it is like in the adult world and how to deal with trials "men." Today, however, it is possible to look beyond the sexist gender divisions from which Kipling wrote and to see the advice in "If" as applicable to all young people.

dneshan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The three most common poetic devices that are presented in this poem are repetition, personification, and alliteration.  Repetition is the repeated use of a word or phrase for a certain effect.  In this poem, Kipling uses repetition with the word “you” throughout the entire poem to emphasize how important “you” is.


Personification is when a non human thing is given human qualities; there are three examples of personification here.  The first is in Stanza 2, when he states,

     “…make dreams your master…”  (line 9)

The second example of personification also occurs in Stanza 2 when Kipling says,

     “If you can meet with triumph and disaster
     And treat those two imposters just the same.”  (lines 11 – 12)

The final example of personification is in Stanza 3, when Kipling states,

       “If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
        To serve your turn long after they are gone”  (lines 21 – 22)


Finally, alliteration is the repetition of the consonant sound at the beginning of consecutive words.  There are at least two examples of this.  The first occurs in stanza 2:       

     “with wornout tools”  (line 16)

And the second example is from stanza 4 and says:

     “sixty seconds”  (line 30)