The speaker at Taylor University’s commencement this past weekend closed her remarks by reading the Rudyard Kipling poem “If.” A colleague of mine (a professor of biblical studies) who was seated near me not only had memorized the poem himself but required both of his sons to commit it to memory “before they could get the keys to the car.” Having three sons of my own, and especially given the profundity of the poem, this struck me as a pretty good idea. Take a/another look at this classic, which is chock-full of wisdom:
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 all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath 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!
That’s excellent – thanks for providing it.
However, the line “If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you” doesn’t quite sit right with me. Isn’t part of risking friendship making yourself vulnerable…or am I missing Kipling’s point?
What about your daughter? This is sound wisdom for her too right? Just because proverbs are addressed from a father to a son in tradition doesn’t mean, especially here, that it isn’t good for her too.
Interesting question about friends and loved ones hurting us. I suppose I’ve interpreted the word “hurt” in that line more in the sense of deep harm, particularly regarding one’s soul, in which case it does make sense. Perhaps I’m being too charitable there, but I figure that given the subtle evolution of language, there are bound to be differences in meanings of certain terms such as that. And if there is one thing we know about the last few decades it is that our “therapeutic culture,” as its sometimes called, tends confuse subjective emotional responses with objective damage to the person. Perhaps that’s another thing to consider as we try to understand what Kipling intends by “hurt.”
Of course, it is wisdom for daughters as well. (This much was also taken for granted by our commencement speaker, who happened to be a woman: Gloria Gaither). The only reason I mentioned the poem for my sons in particular is because of the gender specificity in Kipling’s closing line.
The poem is brilliant. Thank you. Dan
Yes. If I were you, I’d make my sons memorize it before they are allowed to get spacebook accounts… 😉
really though, I enjoyed reading it again.
I learned this poem as a young boy, from my father, who would quote phrases to me and ask me to complete them. When he was on his death bed (2002), I attempted to help him write down some life reflections around each passage. Unfortunately we both were not strong enough to stay on this task in his final months. I have a large framed copy of “If” on the wall of my office, where I work as a licensed therapist and career coach, and occasionallly, at the right moment, give a copy to a client.
I was wondering if you have ever come across an exposition of the biblical truths and references that correspond to each kernel of truth in the poem. Any suggestions you have would be appreciated. I might consider working on such a project as a tribute to my father’s desire, and the longing of all parents, to impart enduring wisdom to their son’s and daughters.