Critical Analysis of Virtues and Values of Life in 'If' by Rudyard Kipling

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Author Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If”, was first published in Kipling’s volume of short stories and poems, “Rewards and Fairies” and in 1910, it became one of his best-known poems, and was even voted the United Kingdom’s favorite poem of all time. The poem “If” is a didactic poem. It teaches a lesson about life. The speaker in the poem is instructing his son on what to do and not do to obtain or inherit the earth while he becomes a man. The poem is a lesson about what is important in life and it teaches people that there are some things worth fighting for and that self-control and the will to hold on will make them a winner. The author lists several conditionals, saying that “if” the listener does these things, they will live a fulfilling existence. The purpose of the poem is to impart wisdom about how to live up to the ideals of manhood and how to maintain a balanced set of virtues.

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The poem is about a father defining for his son the qualities of a good man. He is setting the parameters or boundaries for his son and giving him a goal to achieve. The poem deals with life’s challenges and how to deal with them. The first stanza deals with being confident about the decisions that you make and taking responsibilities for those decisions. If others’ who cannot take that responsibility for themselves react negatively, you will be patient with them and not reduce yourself to their level by telling lies or dealing in hate. However, don’t ever think that one is above anyone else. The second stanza states that it is good to dream, but don’t let one’s dreams control his/her life. It is good to think, but just don’t think and not put those thoughts into action. One will experience triumph and disasters in his/her life, but do not take them seriously because they are not the substance of life, they are the extremes. The third stanza counsels that one should not be afraid to take risks and possible lose everything. If one does lose everything, do not talk about it, just start all over again at the beginning. The fourth and final stanza deals with a person’s reaction to others. One need to be able to talk to large groups of people and yet not let them influence his/her belief in what is right, wrong, moral, or immoral. One need to be able to walk with men of power and influence and yet not forget the common man and his/her needs. Kipling ended his poem by stating that one needs to live every single minute of his/her life to the fullest, and is he/she do these things, then the world will be theirs, and him/her will be a good man.

A positive comment can be made on Kipling’s poem for his style of writing which separates his poem into four stanzas of equal length; each stanza contains eight lines. Kipling keeps a positive and upbeat tone throughout his work, informing the reader about what he or she needs to do in order to be a successful person in life. Kipling makes this a very personal poem by his use of the pronoun “you”. In fact, it is the readers opinion that one could even interpret that the poem is about Kipling talking to himself or giving himself a pep-talk. Just glancing at the poem, the reader is immediately hit with the word “If”. Not only is it the title of the poem, but through his use of repetition, it can be commented that Kipling emphasizes the word throughout the entirety of his work. Critiquing on this point, it is strongly well-written and it can be agreed that Kipling achieved his purpose of the poem, which is to impart wisdom about how to live up to the ideals of manhood and how to maintain a balanced set of virtues, by his style of writing. This also makes the poem move, and the reader is working his or her way through the poem in order to get to the effects of what will happen if he or she is able to accomplish all that is contained in the poem.

It can also be commented positively, that Kipling achieves his purpose of this poem by targeting his audience, making his poem clear and informative, by using the method of persuasion. Kipling’s audience is not only focused on particularly males, but also females. Kipling writes how to deal with lies, being hated, waiting and so on is written vividly on the first verse and that is universal. Kipling’s message was also clear and informative by persuading his audience by his words. In the first stanza, Kipling wrote “if you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you….”, what he was really saying is that in order to be a good human and to succeed in life, we should keep calm when other people around us are losing their cool. We should not lose our temperament even if others are blaming us for their faults. Losing your temper does not solve the problem, but rather intensifies it. Keeping the head cool makes us think wisely to face tough situations, and ultimately a solution comes out. While Kipling continues to mention situations that we encounter in our everyday life and persuades us not to give up, Kipling concludes his poem by stating the end results that we will achieve if we follow his instructions. He writes as his final two lines, “yours I the Earth and everything that’s in it, and-which is more- you’ll be a Man, my son.” Critiquing on this point, it is understandable, and persuasive that Kipling is talking about what we can get if we fulfill all the conditions and the virtues he mentioned in his poem. This is strongly agreeable, since the world is a very competitive place and in life, there will be struggles and people will try to bring you down. Despite those struggles and brought downs, one should never give up on his/her life. If one lives a life and carries out the instructions that were stated in Kipling’s poem, then that person will be able to guarantee fulfilling that achievement that we can win this Earth and everything in it. The poem shows the way to a bright future and perhaps, to be a future leader and mentor onto others.

It can negatively commented about the outcome of Kipling’s poem, about the question, “What would happen if we do not carry out these instructions?” Critiquing on this point, it is directed at the appropriate audience, making them consider the outcome about if they allow themselves to be brought down and discouraged by others and fail to overcome those hard situations that life throws at them, then they will not be able to have that bright future that they all dream about. Life is all about taking risks and taking them to be become a better person. If we fail to carry out instructions pertaining as to those that Kipling is urging us to, then there is no way that one can see him/herself to a bright future.

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