Poetry Study Aid: – IF – Rudyard Kipling ~Part One

RUDYARD KIPLING

Stanza I

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.
1. Who is referred to in the Stanza? State the background of the writing of the poem ‘If”.
The poem can be read as an advice from a father to his son, thus the person addressed in the poem is the poet Kipling’s son or can be seen as an suitably affectionate address from an older mentor to a young boy.
However, if we look into the background in which the poem is written it is addressed to Kipling’s young readers. The poem is part of the children’s story collection Rewards and Fairies, as a companion to the story ‘Brother’s Square Toes’ which is a description of George Washington and his leadership qualifies. Hence, the poem can be seen as a fine-tuning of an explicit message from the story to its young readers. “If” is a didactic poem, a work meant to give instruction. In this case, “If” serves as an instruction in several specific traits of a good leader
2. Explain: If you can keep your head.
If you can keep your head means that if you can remain calm and composed.

The stanza demonstrates the qualities essential for a perfect man. One has to be confident in oneself. At the same time, he should be able to maintain his composure even when faced with harsh criticism from those around him. Even if his companions are impatient with him and fellow travellers lose faith in him he should keep his faith in himself. Equanimity and self-confidence are basic qualities of a perfect man.

3. What should you do when all men doubt you? What is meant by But make allowance for their doubting to?
If all men around us doubt our honesty and integrity, we should remain calm and self-confident. We should not lose our self-esteem or self-confidence. At the same time, we should not be so arrogant that we ignore those who doubt our honesty. We should take into consideration their views also we give margin to their ideas and try our best to tolerate opposing views.
Here Kipling uses a poetic technique known as paradox and we can see that the poet employs the technique of paradox throughout the poem.
The paradox is a blend of mutually exclusive ideas that while apparently incompatible; provide to make a point in their structure.
4. Explain: If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, /Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
The lines advise patience, honesty, and fortitude of character. People may doubt your honesty but you should be patient and tolerant wait for the truth to emerge. For this you should self-confidence and courage of character. There can be situations in which we will become the victims of other’s lies. However, we should not react to these lies with our set of lies. We should face these trying times with fortitude and inner strength. We should remain righteous in the face of unrighteous attitude.
5. What is meant by
Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise.
When people, who have relied upon you, lose their confidence and start doubting you, it natural for them to have hatred towards you. However we should not be flustered by this hatred and yield to the temptation of acting in les virtuous ways. We should remain righteous and conduct ourselves with honesty and confidence.
However, here Kipling gives a caution: enjoining the reader “yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise.” We should behave righteously, but must shun self-righteousness. This is an example. The paradox is a blend of mutually exclusive ideas that while apparently incompatible; provide to make a point in their structure.
Stanza II
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
And treat those two imposters just the same;
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;
1. With close reference of to the poem, elucidate the line:
If you can dream — and not make dreams your master;
A consummate man will always have his dreams, which is his noble ideals, with which he wishes to make the world a better place. But being a sophisticated person, a man of the world, he should not allow his ideals to master or control his thoughts and action completely. If he allows his ideals to dominate him, there is the risk of him becoming stubborn and arrogant. Blindly following ones dreams and ideals is not a good trait in a perfect man.
2. Explain the paradox: If you can think — and not make thoughts your aim;
The paradox is a blend of mutually exclusive ideas that, while apparently incompatible, provide to make a point in their structure.
A perfect man should definitely have his thoughts and ideas on almost all aspects of life. These thoughts and ideas will formulate his vision of life. However, he should not be weighed down by his vision to such an extent that he becomes blind to all other ideals. He should not become a slave to his own ideals and irrationally follow them. He should master his thoughts; not allow his thoughts to master him.
3. The words Triumph and Disaster begin with capital letters. Why? Why Triumph and Disaster are referred to as impostors?
The words Triumph and Disaster begin with capital letters since the poet uses the figure of speech called personification here.
Personification is a poetic technique in which the poet ascribes human attributes to inanimate objects or abstract concepts. Poets very often use this technique to enhance or enrich their poetic style. Both triumph and Disaster are said to be impostors or pretenders. Here the poet opines that both success and failure are transient and impermanent and hence should not be assigned too much value. Life has its own successes as well as its own failures. A complete man should strive forward unconstrained by these ephemeral successes or transient failures.
4. The poet urges the readers to have composure with regard to their dreams and not allow these dreams to vanquish them. Illuminate this with close reference to the Stanza.
Both triumph and Disaster are said to be impostors or pretenders. Success and failure are transient and impermanent and hence should not be assigned too much value. Life has its own successes as well as its own failures. A complete man should strive forward unconstrained by these short-lived successes or transitory failures. Since both “Triumph” and “Disaster” are impermanent by nature, the poet advises detachment from both.
5. Explain:
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
An ideal man has the courage of conviction to proclaim his ideals and dream publically. However, there is always a chance that his words may be twisted or misrepresented or twisted out of contest by others to serve their own purposes. On such occasions, he should have the tolerance and fortitude to accept these foolhardy acts and words of these knaves (self-serving men who are interested only in their welfare) who conspire to deceive fools (rash and reckless men).We can cite many an instance of people twisting the words spoken by someone to suit their own purposes and incite the unwise to act hastily. Give an example from your own life when what you said was misrepresented by others to serve their dishonest motives.
6. Elaborate:
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools;
Very often in our life, we discover that the ideals and dreams for which we have sacrificed our complete efforts lie shattered. All our lofty plans to make the world a better place crumble like cookies and we stand helplessly watching this process of dilapidation. Yet, the poet urges the readers, not to lose their hearts, but remain unruffled by this ruin.
We should strive yet again to from the beginning to build the solid edifice of our ideals and dreams with our delicate faculties.
The center perception of the stanza is the instruction to the readers to proceed with his ideals and to counsel the readers that action does not promise lasting achievement. Perseverance, constant continuous action is the essence of a successful man.
Here the poet sets forth the theme of a strong work ethics. A worthy life is a life that is spent in constant hard work. At times the efforts may go waste and lie in ruins. Yet the individual should be ready to humble himself and start from the beginning. With whatever faculties at his disposal, he should dedicate himself to reconstruct the edifice of his ideals and aspirations.
7. Cite two examples from the poem where the poet cautions the reader to be cautious despite his lofty ideals.
The concept that “Triumph” and “Disaster” are impermanent by nature advises detachment from both. Kipling makes a recommendation to “make one heap of all your winnings / And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss” in order to illustrate the complete detachment with which an individual should regard both profit and loss, neither of which is permanent. Here the poet cautions the readers not be carried away by their loft ideas but to be prudent.

Part Two will be published shortly. Meanwhile, let me know what you think of this…..