Why is Rudyard Kipling's poem named "If?"

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eriklolson eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In the didactic poem​ "If—," the speaker gives counsel to his son about the traits of a good leader. But, rather than simply listing the traits of a good leader, the speaker provides concrete illustrations of these. To do this, the speaker presents a series of hypothetical situations and the appropriate reactions to be taken. The conjunction "if," meaning "in the event that," is used to introduce each one. An example of one of these is the following:

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

Since each of the various scenarios and appropriate reactions to them is initiated by the word "if," it is appropriate that the poem itself is titled "If—." In fact, it will be observed that the whole poem is actually one long sentence that lists "ifferisms," or aphorisms in the form of "if" statements.

Furthermore, the repeated use of "if" is an example of anaphora, a rhetorical device in which a word or group of words is repeated at the beginning of successive clauses or sentences. This technique adds not only emphasis but also unity to the various clauses. In the case of this poem, the anaphora of repeating "if" serves to unify all the parts of the poem. Since "if" repeats to unify all the parts, the title "If—" reflects the whole.

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Rebecca Hope eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In the poem "If" by Rudyard Kipling, thirteen lines begin with the word "if." The poem creates a series of conditional statements, or "if-then" statements, each of which has the same conclusion. The conditional statements are hypotheses. The poet keeps setting up a qualification and saying that "if" the "son" to whom the poem is addressed is able to meet that qualification, "then" he will possess "the Earth and everything in it" and he will "be a Man." The idea is that he will be a successful person, having everything he could want to be happy and content. He will be mature and respectable, a person worthy of the title "man" in its best sense. The poem piles on one hypothesis after another and only provides the double conclusion at the very end of the poem. Therefore, the thirteen or more "if" statements are balanced by two "then" statements. Obviously, a young person has a lot of conditions to fill before he can claim the full title of "Man." Therefore, the poem is called "If" because the emphasis is on all the things that add up to success and maturity rather than on the end result, just as one has to put in years of time and effort to claim fully the prizes of success, contentment, and honor. 

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