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If - Rudyard Kipling

Summary:

  • Rudyard Kipling is giving advice to his son on how to be a better man (directly addresses the reader- “you”)

  • The poem is written in the present tense as Kipling is still guiding his son and advising him and teaching him the attitude he must have towards success and adversity

  • The anthology consists of an aspirational tone and a lack of aggressive language highlighting the virtues and qualities that someone must possess to be a better man. It also emphasises how Kipling doesn’t want his son to be complacent when he achieves something.

  • The title is called ‘if’- the poem is filled with conditionals.

  • The third stanza is about taking risks in life.

Themes:

  • Stoicism- enduring pain and compromise without complaint.

  • Parent/child relationships

  • Advice/ guidance

  • Virtuous living

  • Balance

  • Patience

  • Persistence

Structure:

  • Chant-like quality to the poem. The rhythmical structure expresses a dream-like mentality

  • Kipling has used iambic pentameter which gives the poem a well-balanced and controlled tone.

  • The rhyme scheme is AAAABCBC (first stanza) and ABABCDCD. This helps engage the reader/ his son as the rhyme scheme changes.

  • The iambic pentameter and rhyme scheme gives the poem a constancy to it which emphasises the message of the poem of being wellbalanced and controlled.

  • It is written in a second-person narrative which highlights the message the poet wants to give his son. However, it can be argued that it is relevant to the audience as the second-person narrative here emphasises the persona speaking to the reader.

  •  Use of dashes in lines 9-10(if you can dream -and not make dreams your master) emphasises the following phrase. It also highlights the balance his son should have. The use of varied punctuation helps the reader to reflect over the words.

  • Use of dashes in line 32(last line)- long list ends and we finally realise what it actually takes to be a man. The dashes here emphasises how it’s not just about the opportunities (“Yours is the earth”)but it is about being a man.

  • The capitalisation of the word “Man” also indicates the great importance too.

  • The exclamation mark underlines that the poem is filled with encouragement.

  • The tone is advisory, didactic and realistic. It has an aspirational and emphatic tone as the poem lacks aggressive language. The tone is also conversational due to its rhyme scheme.

Meaning:

  • “You’ll be a Man, my son”- the poem is written to his son, giving advice on how to be a good man.

  • Emphasises how his son should be able to face criticism and opposition, must be confident and hold on to his strength of character, morals and values.

  • It illustrates the ideal behaviour and virtue through the use of paradox: righteousness without smugness; detachment while practising determination and leading a noble life with a sense of community. Highlights the balance that he should have.

Effect on the reader:

  • Target audience is his son.

  • Extorts the reader to be patient, honest and forthright, especially when faced with opposition.

Imagery:

  • “One heap of all your winnings”- portrays an image of gambling and risk

Language:

  • Use of anaphora with the word ‘If’ repeated several times throughout the poem (the poem is filled with conditionals). This emphasises how life is full of consequences of your actions.

  •  ‘Keep your head’- (line 1)- synecdoche (a figure of speech in which a part is made to represent the whole or vice versa)- head relates to calmness and composure; the father is telling his son to keep his composure even when things aren’t going his way

  • The assonance of “ou”- emphasises the doubt.

  • Alliteration in line 6- “don’t deal”

  • Use of imperatives helps emphasise some things that Kipling feels his son should absolutely avoid doing- for example, “make”, “don’t”. This gives the poem a didactic tone.

  • “If you can dream -and not make dreams your master”- emphasises how he must be realistic and remain logical without letting the dream take over. He should never forget his family values”

  • Personification in line 9: “dreams” personified as though they are masters and have control over their lives. In this case, dreams are assumed to have a human role.

  • “Triumph” and “Disaster” are personified by calling them ‘imposters’. The poet personifies them to exacerbate how life will inevitably have both triumph and disaster. By calling them “imposters”, the poet may also be suggesting that they are short-lived and don’t stay for long.

  • Metaphor in line 13-14: “if you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken, twisted by knaves (dishonest men)…” The metaphor highlights the patience one must have even when the truth you’ve spoken is being twisted and distorted.

  • “You gave your life to”- hyperbole illustrating how sometimes you might find something that you’ve given all of your efforts to destroyed or broken.

  • Metaphor in line 16: “And stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools:”. This highlights the human potential and how even when we are absolutely exhausted, we can still build our lives up. The line emphasises how one must face disaster with resilience. “Stoop” and “Tool” are also examples of assonance.

  • Metaphor on line 17: “One heap of all your winnings”- representing successes in life.

  • “Pitch and toss”- gambling game- take risks, you shouldn’t be afraid.

  • Repetition of the word “And” in stanza three, encourages persistence. Furthermore, in line 21, syndetic listing with the use of “and” highlights persistence.

  • “Never breathe a word about your loss” stoicism is seen here. Moving forward during hard times.

  • Synecdoche- “heart”, “nerve”, “sinew” (strength) - being determined and giving your best effort to get back on track.

  •  “Hold on” repeated

  • Personification- line 24: “Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’- suggests the importance of strength and how you can also find the strength within yourself. It also suggests how you can inspire others too.

  • Contrasting ideas in stanza 4: “Crowds”, “Kings” you should be able to be with all types of people while maintaining dignity. ➢ “If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you” contrast- highlights self-confidence and encourages his son to have balance in his life.

  • Hyperbole- “Yours is the Earth”- exacerbates how possessing these qualities can provide him with great opportunities.

  •  Symbolism is used throughout:

    • Knaves- represent scoundrels, common thieves

    • Crowds- symbolise the common people

    • Kings- represent important people in society (the elite)

    • Common touch- represents humility

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