What is the tone and mood of Rudyard Kipling's poem "If—"?

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The tone of "If—" by Rudyard Kipling is instructional and serious, providing authoritative advice on living a virtuous life. The mood is inspirational, encouraging readers to overcome adversity and maintain honor despite challenges. Drawing on the example of Leander Starr Jameson, Kipling advises qualities such as patience, truthfulness, and perseverance, reflecting his views on the values necessary to uphold the British Empire.

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The famous poem "If—" by Rudyard Kipling was ostensibly written by the poet to his son John, but the tone of the poem is that of an authority figure in general instructing a person or persons under him on how to live a virtuous and honorable life.

Kipling received his inspiration for the poem from the life and actions of Leander Starr Jameson, who led a private army on a raid of Johannesburg in South Africa, then held by the Boers. The British government at first supported the raid but later, out of political expediency, condemned it. The raid failed miserably and Jameson received a prison sentence for his part in it. However, he refused to be broken by the experience and later returned to South Africa and became Prime Minster of the British Cape Colony.

The mood of the poem is inspirational. Drawing on the example of Jameson's courage, Kipling provides advice on how to overcome adversity in the face of doubts, delays, lies, losses, and exhaustion. The poet advises his son (and the other readers to whom the poem is addressed) to "keep your head," "trust yourself," wait patiently, speak the truth, begin again when you lose everything, keep striving even if your physical body wants to give up, and treat all people generously.

In conclusion, the tone of the poem is that of someone giving advice to someone younger on how to live morally. The mood of the poem is meant to inspire the reader to live life with honor and keep trying no matter what happens.

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The tone and mood of the poem are both very serious. They reflect how Kipling felt about the British Empire and the special characteristics necessary to run it. As such, the narrator tells the young boy to whom he's addressing his remarks just how difficult life will be as an upholder of the Empire and the values on which it was built.

He's not going to pull any punches; it'll be a hard task keeping a cool head on your shoulders while so many around him are losing theirs. But in the end, it'll be worth it. Not only will the young boy have played his full part in defending the British Empire from its enemies within and without, he'll also have achieved manhood.

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The tone of the poem is didactic. This means that it sets out to teach, to instruct. The speaker is a father advising his son how to live his life, but the lesson can apply to any reader, and indeed the poem continues to find much favour with audiences; undoubtedly it is Kipling’s best known and best loved poem.

The tone of the poem might also be called hortatory, meaning that it urges and encourages the addressee towards following a certain path, as the father aims to inculcate a whole set of morals and values in his son. Kipling employs a colloquial style for the work, and this use of everyday, conversational, easy-to-understand language has contributed to the poem's widespread and lasting appeal.

The mood of the poem is solemn and sober, calling for restraint, balance and fortitude through every aspect of life, even the greatest hardships. If the young man is able to achieve this, then, the father declares emphatically in the closing two lines:

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it;

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

The poem, then, ends on a positive note, with a picture of ideal manhood, fully attained, and in command of life and the world. However, it is easy to miss the overall conditional tone of the poem; the young man will achieve such success only if he follows the exacting commands laid down in the poem. The ‘if’ of the title looms large; the individual state of resilience, balance and strength envisioned in this poem is by no means easy to achieve. 

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What is the mood and tone of the poem "If" by Rudyard Kipling?

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

These are two of the most famous lines of poetry in the English language.

Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” finds a place in the heart of anyone who reads it.  There is an ageless appeal when a father gives a son advice. However, Kipling’s guidance can be applied to everyone’s life.  Living a life of restraint and self-confidence is found at the core of his message.  The poem written in 1895 still rings true with authentic advice.

Tone and mood

The tone of the poem centers on love, sincerity, and restraint.  There are no overly affectionate words, yet the message of the poet comes from the emotional tie to a child’s welfare. The speaker wants his child to do well in life.  By using the second person point of view, the reader feels that the poet is speaking directly to him; thus, he is drawn into the midst of the poem’s alluring meaning.

What more can the father give his son than to provide the path for him to achieve his every dream! As an example of the mood of the poem, think  of the mother bird who pushes her baby out of the nest--she more than just hopes that he flies. She has prepared him for his flight by modeling, coaxing, and instructing. The father in the poem sets the same tone for his son.


What are the insights into life that the father gives his son?

1st stanza

  • Keep on task
  • Trust yourself
  • Control your emotions
  • Forgive those who try to harm you
  • Never use what you have arrogantly

2nd stanza

  • Dream and wonder, but not to excess
  • Never let winning and losing expose your weaknesses
  • Do not let others control your behavior
  • If your dream is crushed, then go back to work and rebuild it

3rd stanza

  • When you risk what you have and lose it, start over again but tell no one
  • Even when our body wants to yield to its limitations, never give up
  • Use your inner strength and hold on

4th stanza

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings---nor lose the common touch,

  • Be able to communicate with anyone regardless of their status
  • Never forget that you are no better than the lowest man
  • Friends are important but self-reliance is more valuable
  • Use every minute of every day—waste not a second
  • If you live your life in this manner, then the earth is your oyster.
  • Men will respect you and think of you as a “man.”

Gentleness,  kindness, forgiveness, respect, self-confidence—these are the attributes that Kipling advises a man [or simply a human being] to etch into his brain, heart, and soul who wants to lead a “life well-lived.”

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What's the mood of the first stanza in the poem "If--" by Rudyard Kipling?

"If—" is a poem about the transition into adulthood and the personal qualities that, as Kipling understands it, make for a mature and functioning human being. At its core, this poem is didactic in its tone and intentions—this is a poem which strives to provide a lesson, and in it, Kipling gives advice as to the qualities that ought to be cultivated in adulthood.

There is a great amount of self-confidence and conviction on the part of the speaker concerning the advice being given. There is little room here for doubt or equivocation. Even if the speaker phrases his advice as a series of conditional statements, there is nothing conditional about the advice itself: for Kipling, these are the qualities required for achieving self-actualization in adulthood.

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What's the mood of the first stanza in the poem "If--" by Rudyard Kipling?

The first stanza has a confident or grimly courageous mood. The speaker warns the young man (later addressed as “my son”) that there will come times in his life when he will be surrounded by chaos (“…when all about you / Are losing theirs [their heads] and blaming it on you”). He may be tempted to lose his head as well, but the path to “manhood” begins with keeping his head, even when he is accused of causing whatever troubles the crowd is encountering.

The emotion that the speaker means to inspire in his son (and in the reader) is confidence, so that they may face this world with success, though it will not be easy. Though much of the trouble that the speaker relates is caused by other human beings, it is in one’s own strength and courage that these conflicts can be overcome.

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