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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Familiar, if not trite, but do yourself a favour and read it again...


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


As a bonus, here's Harvey Keitel reading it:

Until that closing line, this could be from the mouth of Marcus Aurelius or Francis Bacon (the writer not the painter). This oft quoted piece by a bully old Victorian repays re-reading time and again, but not without a few difficulties.

It makes the entry requirements for mere manhood seem staggeringly high. I mean, find me a guy with all these qualities, and I'll marry him, and I'm not normally that way inclined. It calls for courage, perseverance, rock-ribbed robustness, and an ability to discern a perfectly balanced approach to the world, one's fellow man, and oneself. Good luck with that.

Plus, what kind of man is it that gambles all he has on one game of chance?

"He who risks nothing, is nothing," the French saying goes. And, be honest guys, who has not known the thrill of the "awful daring of a moment's surrender, which an age of prudence can never retract" as Eliot put it? We've all taken risks--partners, jobs, investments--without a crystal ball to foretell the outcome. How much we venture on faith! And that requires a certain daring.

But these are quibbles.

What this is is a piece to read after you've survived a difficult time, seen it through with your values and character more ore less intact, and afforded yourself the luxury of a faint smile, knowing you comported yourself well in the face of the tempest. It says, "Stay steady, old boy, stay cool, stay true to yourself, and this too shall pass." If you lose yourself, you lose the lot.

This doesn't mean that life, and our fellow lost souls, won't grind you down, little by little, over time. This is the fate of us all. But let the grindstone of this tough and perplexing world we neither made nor willed, grind us like an old knife, sharper, keener, more scalpel-like, the better to finely pare away reality from illusion, good from ill, truth from falsehood. Pare it all down until what remains comprises something resembling the furnishings of a just and dignified life.

What passes for the outward signs of manhood--wealth, children, achievements, sexual conquest--is often counterfeit. Wealth may be ignobly obtained, achievements equivocal, sexual conquest a fool's paradise, and as for children....anyone can make a child. It takes a man to raise a child to responsible, compassionate adulthoood.

It impossible to read this poem without seeing the soul of your own father rising like vapour through the words. I often think of mine and what he would make of me, of the work I'm undertaking, of the man I have or haven't become. Now there was a guy as solid and steady as the earth underfoot.  His son, rather less so.

But reading this Kipling poem stiffens my resolve to reach down and find what of him is in me. It does that to me every single time.

For more on this poem, visit http://www.allthingsif.org/

1 comment:

  1. As you know December 30th is the birthday of Rudyard Kipling, the author of the inspirational poem “If”. Even a century-and-a-half after his birth, his poem continues to inspire millions of people, people who come from incredibly varied backgrounds all over the world, including you and me. Apparently, we both feel that the more the message of this poem is shared, the better this world would be. After all, I found your blog because it has Kipling’s “If”.

    In that same spirit, the group of enthusiasts (including yours truly) have actually started a blog called “All Things If”, which is devoted to the ideals of the poem. The blog is a literary journal, with short fiction, editorials, sections for “Poems like ‘If’” and “Books like ‘If’”, and, in the next two months, you’ll find interviews with notable people under the heading “Kipling’s Hall of Fame”. Any help that you can offer to improve our blog would be greatly appreciated – articles, stories, suggestions, ideas, comments, editing, etc. I hope you will not find my request too outlandish, but it would also be great if you posted a link to “All Things If” under the text of “If” on your site. This way after reading “If” on your page, your visitors could find readings and even music that expand the poem’s message at “All Things If”.

    I look forward to hearing from you,