Friday, August 9, 2019

Thought Provokers ~ 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,
    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;   
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:

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!’

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!

  Rudyard Kipling  
from Brother Square-Toes’—Rewards and Fairies

Written in 1895; the poem was first published in the Brother Square Toes chapter of Rewards and Fairies, Kipling’s 1910 collection of short stories and poems. Like William Ernest Henley’s Invictus, it is a memorable evocation of Victorian stoicism and the “stiff upper lip” that popular culture has made into a traditional British virtue.

The poem gives advice on how one should live one’s life and takes the reader through various ways in which the reader can rise above adversity that will almost certainly be thrown one’s way at some point in one’s lives.

Which brings me to think how much anxiety and stress one attaches to life and aim of fulfilling goals, there is perhaps no respite from the constant nagging at the back of the brain - the opening line itself led me into a reverie, can we really manage to keep our heads and steer ourselves away from blame? 

Kipling demonstrates the importance of being able to pick oneself up and start again if one fails—even if the thing they’ve failed at has taken all of their life to attempt. The reader must always be prepared to start again.

He is reminding his reader that is important to be able to bounce back from disappointment or pain. One must not dwell on his enemies or the hurt a loved one could potentially cause.

The poem goes beyond the superficial aspects of modern manhood, and delves into the deeper meaning of the word. It's more of a gift than a poem if you ask me. 

If you guys enjoyed this poem then I invite you to delight in more of this Poet's inspirational work, just follow this link and you'll come across his complete collection of poems.

Do let me know your thoughts in the comment section below and if you have any particular favorites  please mention them also.


  1. Oh, how much I love Kipling! Politically incorrect, jingoistic old colonialist that he was (a product of his time and circumstances) ... but he had such a gift for using language, and he identified and gave voice to ordinary people.

    I love his fiction even more than his poetry. I was brought up on Kim, adored it, and still think of the story fondly even though I can now see in it many assumptions which look horrendous today. I also love his two books for children, Rewards and Fairies (which, as you note, 'If' is from) and Puck o' Pook's Hill. Oh, and The Jungle Book of course. My favourites of his poems are 'Brookland Road' from Rewards and Fairies (don't judge me; I was very young when I first read it) and Mandalay. My Mum grew up in India and I had cousins from Burma, which perhaps influenced me re the latter. But I think few could fail to respond to the emotion Kipling engenders by his language. And he was so versatile! How amazing to think he wrote the stately hymn 'Recessional' as well as those I've mentioned, and things like 'Tommy' highlighting the hard lot of the common British foot soldier of that time.

    I'm afraid I've not been a big fan of 'If', though. It always seemed to me too preachy, too conventional, and I guess too focused on the male. But after all, as I say, he was a product of his era. I look at the words now, in your post, and see that there is some value in these ideals. Also I think I hear some bitterness behind the words, as if Kipling had witnessed or even experienced unfair treatment.

    Many thanks for this, Sanaa – thought-provoking in all sorts of ways.

    1. Thank you so much, Rosemary 😊 for your warm and insightful commentary and in depth reading. When I first came across this poem I felt that it offered wisdom on some level and chose to share it keeping in mind the current affairs of the world. There is so much hatred and resentment out there that I feel every little bit of positivity that we can offer helps.💖💖

    2. 'identified WITH ...ordinary people' I meant to say.

      I have since done a bit f research and discovered that Kipling, whilst addressing this poem and its advice to his young son, (so I guess we can allow him the focus on malenesss in this instance) actually wrote it about a public figure, Leander Starr Jameson, whom he knew and admired, and who it seems put up with being unjustly vilified for others' mistakes.

  2. This is more of a gift than a poem, indeed. Thank you Sanaa for sharing it. I've never read Kipling but I think this particular poem is relevant and timely. With the recent events in the US, we all probably can do with this reminder. There's just so much hate in the world. Yet we have to keep going and rise above it.

    1. We must keep going yes 💖 and we shall! Thank you so much for stopping by, Khaya 😊

  3. LOL. I have OFTEN felt I was keeping my head while all about me others were losing theirs and blaming it on me. I think it's called being a mother. Hee hee. Rosemary, I find the same thing, re-reading books I loved so innocently back then, now shocked by the racism, colonialism, and convention I didnt recognize in those unenlightened times. Mind you, we are far from enlightened now, we've been sent back centuries. Sanaa, thanks for this post. I especially love the moving water up top, to soothe the tattered soul. Smiles.

    1. Thank you so much, Sherry 😊 so glad you liked it 💖💖

  4. This was an interesting return to Kipling for me, as I've been reading around him and others from the colonial era (I nearly wrote "error"). His use of rhyme and meter are wonderful, and this advice is very good given all the injustice in the world. Very male directed, for sure, but I think, had he lived at another time, he would have been more inclusive of women in all his writing. Thank you, Sanaa.

    1. I expect you're right, Susan, that in a later era he would have been more inclusive of women. He was one who spoke up for the underdog and downtrodden, even within the context of 19th Century colonial values. I think there was widespread blindness back then about the condition of women – after all, that's why we needed the rise of Feminism.

  5. I've always thought being able to keep one's cool while the world (or other people) are on fire is essential, if one wants to stay relatively sane.

    1. Yes, re-reading 'If' here, I gain a new appreciation for it. If each of us could strive to live up to this advice the world might be a much better place!

  6. Revisiting old treasured poems from another century, often finds me questioning whether they still stand up, and indeed, what we can take away from them that is applicable to modernity. This classic is no exception, though, I have to say, the opening line: 'If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs' has returned to me many times over the course of my life.

    What continues to shine (unquestionably for me) with many of these pieces, is the masterful use of language. These old works are a joy to read, simply because they are rendered so wonderfully well.

    Thank you for this poetic stroll down memory lane, Sanaa … always a pleasure to go there.


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