“If” by Rudyard Kipling: A Guide for Living and Relating

When my son approached manhood, I gave him Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If.”

No other poem seemed to say all that my mother’s heart felt needed saying in order to prepare him for success in life:

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:

As I age, the direction I’m going is not nearly as important as the person I’m becoming. Kipling’s words expose so many of my weaknesses. My hope was for my son’s wisdom and character to exceed my own. Now when I complain about “injustices” I assume people level at me, he reminds me of the wisdom in Rudyard Kipling’s poem.

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:

This stanza is a rough one for me to accept. I’m a hopeless dreamer who walks around with her head in the clouds. I’ve also had my words twisted and used against me. Then there’s those many times I’ve had to pick up the pieces of failed projects and relationships.

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 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!”

This stanza speaks to me about perseverance–an unpopular trait in our instant gratification society. Some of my family members have lost their entire life savings due to dishonest people. Sure they’ve moaned their fair share, but I admire their ability to move past the loss and start again.

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


This is my favorite stanza. What a powerful guide for humility and human relating. Revenge is a powerful human emotion. Believe me, I plot plenty in private. Yet as I ponder my own shortcomings, Kipling’s wisdom pricks my balloon of pride, and thoughts of revenge seep out of a deflated ego.

Yes, Rudyard Kipling’s poem presents a guide for living and relating. It also helps suggests ways to handle hard times–those from without and those from within–due to our own character defects. When I contemplate the power of these words, I aspire to possess the positive attitude my son has adopted for his life.

14 Replies to ““If” by Rudyard Kipling: A Guide for Living and Relating”

  1. It’s funny. When I was in middle school (we called it grade school, but I was in fifth or sixth grade), we had a speech contest every year and I memorized “If” by Rudyard Kipling. Funny because I wasn’t very gender aware or sensitive then and I really like the code to live by.


    1. Christine, that is an irony. What a long poem for a 5th or 6th grader to memorize.
      The amazing gift of this poem is how the meaning changes as one ages. Having lived through so many of the experiences he addresses, I find my appreciation magnifies the older I get.


  2. Wonderful gift of verse that you shared Jodee.

    I wonder if it was something that he shared with his son since it was written a few years prior to his son a soldier being killed during WWI?


    1. journey to epiphany, thanks for stopping by and leaving the complement. I sure doubted my parenting while in the midst of it. But now I can say with all certainty that my kids turned out to be awesome people…thanks to a whole lot of help from family and friends.


  3. Hiya JoDee,

    Funny that, I am also giving my son this poem as he approaches manhood, as I recall my mother doing for my brothers. For me it is releasing him to be a man at 15, which seems kinda young…. but the pain of my separation from his father and his father leaning on him and his sister too much, has curtailed his adolescence in a sense, and brought on the time for me to be releasing into man hood too!


    1. Belinda, ironically your story matches my own, “…but the pain of my separation from his father and his father leaning on him and his sister too much, has curtailed his adolescence…” Boy do I relate. My son and I often referred to this poem as we navigated through those difficult post divorce years. Your son is fortunate to have a mother like you.


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