What is a summary of the poem "If" by Rudyard Kipling?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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In "If" by Rudyard Kipling, the poet gives directions for growing into manhood to one he calls "my son". In the first stanza calm equilibrium, trust in one's self, response to lies, hating, waiting are addressed, and he adds that looking too good and being too wise are not desirable. In the second, he talks about dreaming, thinking, meeting with good fortune and meeting with bad fortune, distortions of you words by others and the need to "stoop and build" again when all in life is broken around you.

In the third stanza, he talks about taking risks and starting again without complaining if the risk doesn't pay off and about forcing yourself to not give up and go on despite all odds by the power of your will to say "Hold on".  In the fourth, he talks about maintaining virtue and humility; about loving without being devastated by what friends or foes do; and about valuing all people but none so much that some count more than others.

The last lines of the fourth stanza are the most famous. Dustin Hoffman delivered a version of the idea in Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium (2007). The last lines admonish "my son," and all who read or hear the lines, to fill the "unforgiving" relentless march of time with "sixty seconds" worth of forward movement--of no specified sort, so walking, talking, not complaining, stooping to rebuild, thinking can all suffice to fill the sixty-seconds--with the result being unhampered fulfillment of your humanity ("Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it").

Reflecting the gender division between the public accomplishment of men and the private accomplishment consigned to women, the poet concludes that following the advice he has laid out will constitute a rite of passage into manhood. Today, of course, when the gender division between public accomplishment and private accomplishment has been subverted, we would prefrer to mentally revise the last phrase "you'll be a Man my son!"  to read "you'll be Humankind, my child."

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