Poetry: Rudyard Kipling’s “If”

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Enjoy this Kipling poem, written in tribute to Dr. Leander Starr Jameson, who in 1895 led about 600 of his countrymen to an unsuccessful raid on the Boers in southern Africa.

Just one day into it, Jameson surrendered, and got shipped back to England to be tried and convicted for failing to listen to the order not to do anything yet until he heard from his superior. The defeat was re-cast as a victory in Britain, and the Boer War soon followed. The British really wanted them diamonds in them mines …

We thought the gender-specific gut-kick at the end of the poem was maybe directed to Kipling’s actual son, and not an imperialist with an unhealthy case of hubris embroiled in an ignominious military failure, but whatevs. The rest of it makes us want to do good stuff and break ugly things and speak at high school graduations … so here it is because we gotta go to the Cyclecide drunkyard to help set up the rides.

kipling: gangster. just look at that 'stache

kipling: gangster. just look at that ‘stache


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!

By Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936).


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