The first time I read If, my dad had sent it to me in relation to a sermon I had just preached. Many years later it is still the most impacting piece of literature of which I have knowledge.
Written in 1896, the poem was inspired by the failed ‘Jameson Raid’ the year prior. The raid was a military action by the British colonial government against Boers in the Transvaal, led out of modern day Botswana by Dr. Leander Starr Jameson. The raid failed when telegraph lines were not cut as planned and the Boers were forewarned of the attack, ultimately leading to Jameson’s surrender. However, his courage to lead the attack in the first place along with his taking full responsibility for the failure of the attack, led to Jameson becoming a hero in the English press and sparking a wave of patriotism throughout England. Evidenced by the poem, the already affluent Kipling became caught up in the zeal.
Since the time the poem was published in 1910 it has been a significant piece of literary history in England as well was an enormous source of inspiration the world over. Its portrayal of high resolve and resilience in times of trouble and distress are a beaming call to the greater virtues of manhood human potential.
The poem can be read and enjoyed in full below.
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!