“If” by Rudyard Kipling: Poem Analysis
Rudyard Kipling’s poem under the short title “If” is a meaningful and poetically rich literary piece that remains relevant even after decades since its creation. The poem was initially published in 1910 as a part of the collection of the poet’s poems and short stories entitled Reward and Fairies (Memon and Tunio 35). The poem is narrated by a speaker who addresses his son with didactic messages about how to live a decent life and be a man. The historical context of the poem suggests that since it was written in the time of Victorian Britain, Kipling aimed to deliver the philosophy of stoicism, which was characteristic of the culture of the era (Memon and Tunio 35).
Indeed, the encouragement to control one’s emotions and always be aware of the virtues and how they are manifested in the hardships of life reflect the philosophical and ethical standards of the historical period of time. However, despite these issues, the poem’s message remains relevant to a contemporary reader since it appeals to the high requirements of virtuous humanity as a guide on how to be a human being of exquisite moral principles.
The poem’s structure and literary devices vividly reflect the author’s idea and the overall message of the literary work. As the title suggests, the whole poem is a conditional piece, the structure of which introduces numerous conditions, the purpose of which is unveiled only at the very end of the last stanza. The author lists an array of life situations and challenges and exemplar ways of solving them in ‘if’ sentences. For example, in phrases like “if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you” or “if you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken,” Kipling refers to such virtues as honesty, diligence, and trustworthiness.
Accumulating ‘ifs,’ the author increases the emotional load of the poem to finally release the tension with the last stanza’s finale. All of the conditions are used as a guide toward the final sentences. They state that given that one follows all of these provisions, they can be a decent human being capable of owning the world “and everything that’s in it” (Kipling par. 4). Rich in metaphors, personification, and symbolism, the poem’s narration ignites readers’ imagination and triggers emotions.
The themes of hope, virtue, determination, and will power, as well as the importance of being a morally principled individual are implied in the poem. Kipling builds a well-developed and structured system of human virtues and necessary skills in life that apply to modern life as a guideline for humanity. The ability to remain true to oneself and sincere with others, as in these lines: “if you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, or walk with kings—nor lose the common touch,” is a necessary feature of being a human being (Kipling par. 4).
Moreover, the ability to find a perfect balance in life “and yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise,” while aligning one’s behavior with determination, willpower, and hope for success is pivotal (Kipling par. 1). Masterfully building the narration and layering the messages in every stanza, the author incorporates a wide range of important life lessons. Therefore, the poem “If” is one of the most prominent poetic works that set an example of determined, virtuous, and morally driven living.
Kipling, Rudyard. “If.” Poets. Web.
Memon, Muhammad Ismail, and Moiz Awan Farhat-un-Nisa Tunio. “Stylistic Analysis of the Poem ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling.” International Journal of English Research, vol. 7, no. 1, 2021, pp. 35-37.