We, as humans, try to reach for the stars and reach our true potential in what we set our minds too. "If," written by British poet Rudyard Kipling, is a poem that tries to capture the truth behind this human behavior. Some of the lines are mere statements, while others are warnings. In the four octets, many aspects of the good and bad side of humans are discussed.
The speaker begins the poem by discussing a very common attribute of people – arrogance. He/she warns us not to "keep your head when all about you… nor talk too wise." By this, the message is not to become arrogant in ourselves and what we may have. We may isolate others in doing so, because what you perceive as confidence may come across as cockiness, which is not a very appealing quality to others. The speaker continues by adding that patience, integrity and security are all equally important to one’s personality. Firstly, as the popular saying goes, great things happen to those who wait, is echoed by the speaker saying "If you can wait and not be tired by waiting." True greatness, in the real world, is achieved by years and years of hard work. In the end, everything will pay off and the reward will be that much more sweet when you consider the work that came into it. Secondly, you should be comfortable with your personality. Frequently during one’s lifetime, a rumour or lie will spring up which will test one’s character. If you give into the lie, you’ll feel that you have to defend yourself. However, if you have enough self-esteem, you won’t "don't deal in lies" and become frustrated with others. Lastly, when one is hated, "don't give way to hating." Succumbing to hate will only make matters worst.
In the second stanza, the speaker moves onto another human characteristic. Obsession. When people get an idea into their heads, they tend to loose focus of all other things and become obsessed with reaching that goal. This idea is repeated by the speaker when he/she urges one "…not make dreams your master" or "…make thoughts your aim." There is more to life that just pursuing a dream or aiming a thought, because there are more important things to be learned and made such as meaningful relationships and experiencing the world first hand. Continuing on with the idea of life, the speaker realizes that mistakes are made and that all actions have consequences. Sometimes, we are reluctant to own up to our errors, but in the end, we all have to "…watch the things [we] gave [our] life to, broken." Then, we have to "…stoop and build" meaning we do what is right by correcting our mistakes "…with worn-out tools" symbolizing effort.
In the third stanza of "If," money is mentioned for the first time. Increasingly, the pursuit of money and the idea of being wealthy has broken lives, ruined families and destroyed people. The speaker says if one wagers everything on "…one turn of pitch-and-toss and lose, and start again at your beginnings," then there is a possible chance that one is able to make a fortune.
Lastly, the speaker reminds us about the importance humility of remaining humble. In today’s world, there are many things that make us forget that we are all equal human beings. Fame, money and power, to name a few, are responsible for this. For this reason, the speaker reminds us to be respectful and to "keep [our] virtue." He proceeds with this notion as he advises the reader not to "…lose the common touch" when one is walking with kings, which is a metaphor for exceptional achievement. "If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you" then you truly have attained exceptional achievement, because you have remained true to yourself and others.
The tone of the poem is very informative, cynical, and daring because of the over usage of the word "If." Poetic devices were used throughout the poem. The rhyme scheme is AAABCDCD EFEFGHGH IJIJKLAL MNANOPOP. The A has been repeated several times, since it is on the rhyme of ‘you.’ Parallelism is evident throughout, as a lot of the lines start with "If you can…" Furthermore, personification has been used such as "If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster." And "Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!" "If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;" means that you are able to keep in control, but others are not capable of doing that, so they would go and blame it on you. "If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, / But make allowance for their doubting too:" means trust yourself, but keep in mind that there are always other possibilities as well. "If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;" means don’t let your dreams guide you. "If you can think – and not make your thoughts your aim," means don’t let your thoughts overpower you. "If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster / And treat those two impostors just the same:" means if good or bad comes by, let it go; don’t let one overshadow the other. "If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken / Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools…" means the truth may not be what it seems.
Mr. Rudyard Kipling and his poem “If” have made an astounding contribution to what our minds are able to set into. Arrogance, obsession, money, and remaining humble are the major attributes of this poem; hopefully one is able to acquire advice and learn from it.