I am not overly fond of referencing quotes of poets, authors, leaders and luminaries. I find myself getting put off by (and sometimes a little angry at) sanctimonious types who merrily regurgitate these teachings and truisms without really comprehending what they mean – as evidenced by their contradictory behaviour. It’s way too easy to talk the talk, but how many of us walk…Oh well, you know the rest!
But “If” by Rudyard Kipling is a poem that I feel deeply connected to. The historical context or story behind the poem is secondary to me. I feel that its core message is universal. Its relevance, ageless. To me the poem is the very embodiment of the concept of transcendence. In it Mr. Kipling puts forward, with almost preternatural elegance and conciseness, a series of maxims and mottos for a life of integrity. A sort of how-to-guide towards achieving a personal apotheosis.
I even considered committing the poem to memory once, but then realized that there’s something so much more powerful about the experience of reading and rereading it instead. I always keep a copy of it nearby – as an affirming reminder of what I aspire to every day of my life.
I say “aspire” because, let’s face it, it’s a pretty tall order! In fact, I often entertain the hunch that Kipling himself might have concluded the poem with a footnote that read “And if you can manage all that my son, won’t you please tell me how?” Sadly, Kipling’s only son, Lieutenant John Kipling, died in World War I in 1915.
Maybe you’re already familiar with it – but “If” you’re not, I would feel very proud to have introduced you to what is arguably his most famous 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 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