Student Question

How can the second stanza of Kipling's "If" be paraphrased?

Quick answer:

In the second stanza of "If—," Rudyard Kipling is trying to convey the importance of self-control. To this end, the speaker is urging the young man to be realistic and not let himself get carried away by dreams or the whims of fate.

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The first line of the poem: “If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;” means that people should not let their dreams control their lives, but should be in charge of their own destinies.

The second line, “If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim,” translates to mean close to the same as the first line – which is to let things happen as they will and not try to overthink anything.

The third and fourth lines, “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster / And treat those two impostors just the same”, means that we should not let victories make us feel invincible nor should we let negative events ruin or upset us.

The final four lines:

     “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 worn-out tools.”

Are telling the reader that we can not allow ourselves to be changed by what others say nor can we allow others to get the best of us. 

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What is Rudyard Kipling trying to convey through the second stanza of the poem "If—"?

There are undoubtedly elements of Stoicism in Rudyard Kipling's most famous poem. Stoicism was an ancient Greek philosophy that, among other things, advocated self-control in the midst of life's numerous ups and downs.

One of the most important Stoic philosophers, Epictetus, argued that we should concentrate on what is within our control and not what isn't. This attitude appears to find expression in the second stanza of “If—,” where the speaker stresses the importance of self-control.

For instance, in the first line of the stanza, we have the following:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master

Everyone has dreams, of course, but all too many people make dreams their master, living in a fantasy world that makes it hard for them to deal with everyday reality. Suffice to say, the speaker of the poem does not want the young man to whom he's addressing his remarks to turn out like that. He wants him to exert self-control in the face of his dreams.

He also wants him to be Stoical when it comes to dealing with fate. Fate will bring him both triumph and disaster, but it's vital that the young man treats these “two impostors” in the exact same way. What matters is not what will happen to him but how he'll deal with it.

This extends to those unpleasant occasions when your enemies will twist your words out of all recognition even though you spoke the truth. As with dreams and fate, other people are largely beyond your control. All you can do in such circumstances, in time-honored Stoic fashion, is to exercise self-control.

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