The In-depth Analysis of Poem ‘IF’ by Rudyard Kipling

  1. Poem

If

Rudyard Kipling

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,                                      5
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;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,                          10
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors 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,                            15
And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:                                        20
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,                             25
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,                                        30
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

2. Analysis

a  Aspect of Form

  • Structure

The ‘If’ which was written by Rudyard Kipling, a prolific bard of India, is inevitably unique due to the emergence of a word ‘if’ several times in every stanza. The poem consisting four stanzas bears eight sets of lines respectively. This poem is also written beautifully in rhyme.

  • Rhyme Scheme

First Stanza     :

If you can keep your head when all about you                      … (A)
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;                                 … (A)
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,                … (A)
But make allowance for their doubting too:                           … (A)
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,                          … (B)
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,                                   … (C)
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,                              … (B)
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;                    … (C)

Second Stanza :

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;         … (D)
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,               … (E)
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster                             … (D)
And treat those two impostors just the same:.                         … (E)
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken                       … (F)
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,                              … (G)
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,                  … (F)
And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;                     … (G)

Third Stanza    :

If you can make one heap of all your winnings                     … (H)
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,                              … (I)
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,                       … (H)
And never breathe a word about your loss:                             … (I)
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew                   … (A)
To serve your turn long after they are gone,                           … (J)
And so hold on when there is nothing in you                          … (A)
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”                     … (J)

Fourth Stanza  :

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,                 … (A)
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,                … (K)
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,                       … (A)
If all men count with you, but none too much:                       … (K)
If you can fill the unforgiving minute                                       … (L)
With sixty seconds‘ worth of distance run,                             … (M)
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,                          … (L)
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!                    … (M)

Mr Kipling had one certain word appear in end rhyme few times; that is the word ‘you’. It mostly shows up in every stanza, except the third one. However, there are also other words sounding like /ju:/ to appear at the end rhyme, such as sinew /sin.ju:/ and virtue /vɜ:.tju:/. Despite distinctly different written form, they are all categorised similar according to the way of sounding, a principle to decide a true rhyme. It can also be noticed that the similar sounding occurs not only at the end of a line, but also in the front part. They are all discussed furthermore as follows.

  • Versification

Rhyme

  • First stanza

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;

The word ‘If’ repeated in every other line is included in Anaphora, the repetition of a word or phrase with one or two intervening words. Not only is the word ‘if’ repeated, but also ‘you can’ is.

Assonance, the repetition of identical vowel sounds preceded and followed by differing consonant sounds, can also be noticed in words ‘allowance’ and ‘doubting’ because of the sound /ɑu/ in the middle of words. ‘Look’, ‘too’ and ‘good’ are also assonantal with a vowel sound /u:/ preceding different consonant sounds.

The words ‘being’ and ‘hating’ are included in half-rhyme or off-rhyme due to their similarly final sounds /ɪŋ/ and so are the words ‘losing’ and ‘blaming’.

  • Second stanza

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 impostors 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;

            Perfect rhyme occurs in the words ‘meet’ and ‘treat’ due to identical stressed vowel sound /i:/. There is also another kind of rhyme which seemingly looks like a similar sounding; that is eye-rhyme with the words ‘bear’ and ‘hear’. People may pronounce them both in a similar way, but they are obviously different in pronunciation. ‘Bear’ comes up with /eə/ while ‘hear’ is with /ɪə/.

            The words ‘knaves’ and ‘make’ are assonantal due to identical vowel sound /eɪ/ preceding different consonant sounds. Moreover, the initial sound of ‘treat – those – two – the’ in a single line is called alliteration with consonant sound /t/.

  • Third stanza

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

The words ‘on’, ‘of’ and ‘toss’ in the second line show that they are included in alliteration with initial sound /o/. Meanwhile, the words ‘nerve’ and ‘serve’ is definitely a masculine rhyme (perfect rhyme) because of stressed final syllable /ɜ:v/ following different initial sound.

  • Fourth stanza

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds‘ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

            The words ‘talk’ and ‘walk’ with ending sound /ɔ:k/ but different initial sounds are included in a perfect rhyme. Meanwhile, alliteration can still be spotted in the words ‘sixty’, ‘seconds’ and ‘distance’.

Imagery

            It means to use a figurative language to represent objects, actions and ideas in such a way that it appeals to our physical sense. In the poem ‘If’, the imagery appears in line:

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, (first stanza)

The reader feels as if s/he were being tired of waiting and that is perhaps what the writer of it wanted the readers to feel about.

            The next imagery can be seen as in:

And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools; (second stanza)

Those express the physical feeling which makes the readers feel like stooping and building something. The readers play a role just like a building constructor needing for much energy to build something.

Personification

            It is a figure of speech in which a thing, an idea or an animal is given human attributes. The non-human object are portrayed in such a way that we feel they have the ability to act like human beings. As seen from poem ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling, this sort of figure of speech can be spotted as follows.

If you can dream and not make dreams your master             (Second stanza)

Dreams were like masters who can control our lives. In this case, dreams are assumed to have had a human role/quality; that is being a master.

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster                        (Second stanza)

Success is personified as “Triumph” and can make us complacent. Failure is personified as “Disaster”. It can influence us to believe that failure is permanent. Moreover, a verb ‘meet’ is always something to do with human’s activity, but in this poem, the writer used the verb to beautify the meaning.

Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”                    (Third stanza)

Will is personified as a person who encourages us not to give up.

Metaphor

            It is a figure of speech making an implicit, implied or hidden comparison between two things or objects that are poles apart from each other but have some common characteristics between them.

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.                       (First stanza)

            Impostors refer to the triumph and disaster. An impostor is actually a person who pretends to be someone else in order to deceive others. However, ‘triumph’ and ‘disaster’ are portrayed as impostors because when dealing with them in life, their coming is apparent, but very deceiving that they may come and go in one’s life.

And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools                   (Second stanza)

Worn out tools refer to the feeling of total exhaustion that can force someone to give up.

 Symbolism (Denotations)

            It is the use of symbols to signify ideas and qualities by giving them symbolic meanings that are different from their literal sense. In this poem, some examples of symbolism can be noticed below.

  1. 1.      Knaves represent scoundrels, liars or conman.
  2. 2.      Crowds symbolise the common folk/people.
  3. 3.      Kings represent the important people in society.
  4. 4.      Common touch represents humility.

 

b.  Aspect of Content

  • Theme

The first theme would be growing up and becoming a man. It discusses about maturing into manhood, growing up and becoming wiser. That has something to do with learning leadership skills. In the process of becoming a man, leadership skills are usually required to succeed and earn respect.

Another theme in this poem is righteousness rather than being self-righteous. People who are striving to be righteous should not be self-centred. Those two things, righteousness and self-righteousness, are totally opposites. So, if people act self-righteous, they aren’t going to achieve righteousness any time soon.

The next theme is having a good work ethic. People should not give up when things get harder. They shouldn’t decide to be lazy and just decide not to do something because they don’t feel to like it. People should always keep trying and persevering through hard times and it will pay off in the long run.

The last theme of this poem is detachment. Failure and success should not be focused on because they will not last nor will they be permanent. Do not get attached to something that will leave as quickly as it came. All of these men possess nobility of spirit and do not give up or give in.

  • Message

Risks must be taken in to life and hopes must not be lost if things do not work out as the desired way. Eventually, the poet implied once people have reached success which they aimed at, they should remain to mingle with the common crowd but never lose his individuality.

  • Conclusion

This poem attempts to tell us how to be a man dealing with any life matters in the future confidently. Since the poet wrote this poem in respect of a man who went to Boer war in the 17th century, he expressed what that man was feeling about through the ‘If’. When the reader recites it, s/he will feel as if this poem were composed by mummy for her son.

Not only is the ‘If’ targeted at the man, but also woman. How to deal with lies, being hated, waiting and so on is written vividly on the first verse and that is universal.

This analysis has been presented in front of the lecturer mastering the Poetry Class as well as graded. It was also compiled by Kurnia Hartana and Rina Putri

©2014

7 thoughts on “The In-depth Analysis of Poem ‘IF’ by Rudyard Kipling

  1. Jim English says:

    You wrote “Since the poet wrote this poem in respect of a man who went to Boer war in the 17th century”. This spoils an otherwise interesting analysis. The poem was written to his son who later went to fight in the First World War. He was killed at the Battle of Loos on the Western Front in 1915, aged 18. The Boer War was in the late 19th/early 20th centuries. 1899-1902.

    • James Spanish says:

      Kipling’s own autobiography confirms the poem was based on Jameson and his association with the Boer war; who cares if cited the wrong century. I’d call it a typo!

  2. firman setiawan says:

    It was really helpfull… I’m having a mini research for this poetry…

    Keep it a good work,dude…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s