Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) was the first English Language writer to receive the Nobel Prize in 1907 and the youngest in the category of Literature. He is best known for the children’s classic “Jungle Book”, written in 1894. Kipling was known for short stories, patriotic satire, and poetry. A prolific writer, Kipling wrote on the people, cultures and British Imperialism. His writings include poetry, short stories,collective works, and novels.
In his 1910 collection of short stories and poems “Rewards and Fairies”, Kipling featured the poem “If”. In his own autobiography, “Something of Myself” (1937), he notes that the poem was written based on Leander Starr Jameson, Prime Minister of South Africa’s Cape Colony, whose strong character gained a reputation as an inspiration for others to live by.
This particular poem has been called idealistic by some, as a parody of the unattainable expectation placed on men. Others have posted the poem and interpreted it as character goals to attain. Regardless of how one views it, the message continues to retain popularity. In a 1995 BBC opinion poll, it was rated Britain’s favorite poem.
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 imposters 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 wornout 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 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!
Rewards and fairies 1910
What a beautiful message of a strong character. If I were to rewrite this poem as a message to my child in today’s words, it would look something like this:
My dearest one,
It is my heartfelt hope that you will become successful and respected in life. To help you on this journey, I want you to remember some character traits to help you on your path:
• Keep a level head in all situations- being virtuous so that when others look at your actions, you can be blameless.
• Trust yourself, but at the same time, realize that you too can make mistakes.
• Be patient in all things and know that some things just take time.
• When others lie about you or hate, don’t let it get to you. Don’t lie or hate back. Be above that but don’t be proud or haughty about it either.
• Dream great dreams and think great thoughts, but don’t let them run your life.
• Know that both disaster and triumph will come in this life. Remember that these are temporary states that will pass. Be steady-minded in both good times and bad.
• Practice what you preach to others, so that none can use your words against you.
• Know that sometimes things don’t turn out the way we expect, but don’t lose hope. Be willing to go back to the beginning and start over.
• Don’t be afraid to take risks. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose. If you are in a losing situation, don’t complain- that doesn’t change anything. Pick yourself back up and start over.
• When you have lost heart, lost nerve, or are physically drained, have the courage and the will to go on. Find your inner strength, even if you feel you are at the end.
• Be transparent and virtuous in everything you do, whether with kings or in the crowd that you may be respected by all.
• Be careful not to take things to heart, but be strong in yourself.
• See others as important, but don’t put too much importance on anyone.
• Time doesn’t wait for anyone, make every second count
My child, IF you remember this advice, you will be well respected and able to conquer anything this life will bring.