If…

As a kid studying poetry in my English classes at school, I came across the poem If… by Rudyard Kipling. Immediately I formed a connection with this poem and it has been one of my favourite pieces of writing ever since. I have copied it out in full at the bottom of this post, for anyone who would like to read it. There is a new lesson to be learnt each time you do.

For those of you who are not familiar with the poem, If is a dialogue from a man to his son, in which he expresses the complexities of the world he shall grow up in, and how he should react to them. Kipling, in this poem, hints at the impossibility of perfection, but does not allow that to be used as an excuse for lack of effort.

I’m writing about this poem today because it is only recently that I have realised a lesson it teaches. There are certain lines that stick in my head more than others… One such line came to mind when I was preparing to sit my driving test last month: “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster / And treat those two imposters just the same” 

This line jumped out at me for obvious reasons. I thought I had cracked it, the fear of failure that was holding me back. Unfortunately, as you may well know from an earlier post, I failed that driving test. Upon re-reading the poem, I understood a fresh perspective of it, a new lesson that I had to learn.

Patience.

A happy, successful life is found by those who are patient. The poem is fairly lengthy, and as you may have noticed if you looked at the punctuation, it is, in fact, only one sentence long. It is only once his father has reached the last stanza of this unattainable list, does the son learn his fate.

Success doesn’t always come first time. Sometimes we have to try things over and over and over again, until we crack them, but we will. Failing is not an excuse for a lack of effort and giving in.

We are all in such a rush for instant gratification and reward. Perhaps it’s partly because of the world we live in these day, but we all want things now. Not tomorrow. Nor the day after and nor the day after that either. (I’m still guilty myself. I ordered something online recently, and was shocked to see that the estimated delivery date was two weeks away!)

We have lost the art of being patient, instead lamenting that which you do not hold, be grateful for that which you do.

I urge you to take a step back, and breathe. Things will go wrong in life. Nothing will ever go exactly to plan and there will always be things that cause us stress. But that’s ok. And yes I really do mean that. You’re not the only one.

Have a little patience, learn from our mistakes, and try again.

If… 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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11 Comments Add yours

  1. This is a wonderful poem! If I ever master teaching poetry in my classes, this will be one of them. Your insights give it even more meaning.

    1. M_McKeen says:

      Thank you! It is a poem that has a lot of meaning for me.

  2. carlalouise89 says:

    This is one of my favourite poems to teach in poetry! I always teach “Stop All The Clocks” by W.H. Auden and Sonnet 116 of William Shakespeare’s. And at the end of the unit, I always love to show “The Dead Poet’s Society”.

    But great message. And I think the poem really suits your message 🙂

    1. M_McKeen says:

      I remember studying Sonnet 116 at school too though am not familiar with Stop All The Clocks”, it’s a good poem though. Thank you, that’s what I hoped 🙂

      1. carlalouise89 says:

        Definitely read Stop All The Clocks. It’s devastating. Seriously.

      2. M_McKeen says:

        Do you write poetry?

      3. carlalouise89 says:

        Not really. It seems to be the one thing I don’t write, even though I’m incredibly passionate about it.

        However, that being said (and I hope it doesn’t sound braggy, it just happens to be true) I am quite good at writing it when I do. Even in uni, and we had a creative writing class, I had to write three poems. I did it last minute because I just don’t feel like it’s true, but I managed to come out with a distinction.

        How about you? Do you write poetry?

      4. M_McKeen says:

        Haha don’t worry about it! I know what you mean. I haven’t written as much as I used to. I like it to come naturally, otherwise I fear that it’ll sound false. Haven’t really written anything recently though.

      5. carlalouise89 says:

        Yeah, I understand that! I think that’s why I don’t anymore. Other things come far more easily for me!

  3. This is a great poem and post, Matt! I know that it can be really hard for me since I’ve struggled for so long and still haven’t gotten to where I want to be in terms of progress. Still, I know that I have made progress and that if I continue to do so, I’ll get through this!

  4. Reblogged this on Getting Through Anxiety and commented:
    Matt from In Silence We Suffer shares this wonderful post and poem! Please check out his wonderful blog!

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