Student Question

Does the poem "If" by Rudyard Kipling contain these poetic devices: rhyme scheme, rhythm, understatement, paradox, metonymy, and onomatopoeia?

Expert Answers

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I've included the entire poem below and will illustrate examples of rhythm and rhyme scheme, paradox and understatement. I don't see examples of the others however.

If you can keep your head when all about you 
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you; 
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, 
But make allowance for their doubting too; 
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, 
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies, 
Or, being hated, don't give way to hating, 
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

  • The above passage has a rhyme scheme of ababcdcd. Lots of times a poem will have the same rhyme scheme throughout, but "if" doesn't seem to. Below, you would call the rhyme scheme efefghgh because the rhymes go in the same rhythms, but not with the same actual rhymes.

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master; 
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim; 
If you can meet with triumph and disaster

  • the repetition here adds to the rhythm itself of the poem. As you read it aloud, the rhythm comes through pretty clearly.

And treat those two imposters just the same;

  • this line would make a paradox. You would think that triumph and disaster were two clearly different things but Kipling's got them both pegged as imposters. It seems contradictory, but then you look at it again and see that it's true.

If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken 
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, 
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken, 
And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings 
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

  • the use of pitch and toss would be an example of understatement. The narrator's subject would be able to lose everything in a simple game.

And lose, and start again at your beginnings 
And never breath a word about your loss; 
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you 
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, 
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch; 
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you; 
If all men count with you, but none too much; 
If you can fill the unforgiving minute 
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run - 
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it, 
And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!

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