You have read at least one book written by Joseph Rudyard Kipling in your life or you have at least saw a movie based on his famous book entitled Jungle Book. This is the story of Joseph Rudyard Kipling, a Nobel Prize winner. This is his poem If.

Joseph Rudyard Kipling
Joseph Rudyard Kipling.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

About Joseph Rudyard Kipling

Most people know this author and poet as Rudyard Kipling. He was born in Bombay (1865) and was greatly inspired by India. His poem If was elected most favourite British poem in 1995.

There is much to do about Kipling, who passed away more than eighty years ago. Until the Fifties of the previous century, he was widely respected. But, it was the decolonisation that decreased his popularity. He was indeed inspired by India, but the colonial British India. People such as George Orwell – author of Animal farm – strongly opposed to the work of Kipling. He called him a fascist. Was he?

Kipling grew up in a world with a strong British empire. Yes, he even wrote about this world he lived in. From a perspective of someone who didn’t realise there was a big downsize to the British imperialism. In his poem The white man’s burden, he wrote about slavery and racism. It was the white man, who learned others about civilisation. Unthinkable these days, undoable these days!

One might – again – ask the question, why The Ministry of Poetic Affairs writes about these authors. A good question. To show the world, there is more than just Jungle Book. That this author was a strong believer of imperialism.

About If

On nearly every line, the word if is repeated. Oh yes, the poet does love this word – so it seems. 32 lines and thirteen times the word if.

What is the place and time for this poem? It could be a gambling game, but it is more likely, that Kipling refers to another country on another continent: South Africa. Here Sir Leander Starr Jameson was responsible for the failed invasion of Transvaal. Jameson was fighting the Dutch settles, Boers, who occupied this part of the continent. The siege is called The Jameson Raid. This all took place between December 29 1895 and January 2 1896. This would lead to what we now know as the Second Boer War.

But, in the end, this deals with another part of the colonial history of Great Britain. A part that the empire wasn’t really proud of.




By Rudyard Kipling

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!

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