rudyard kipling if analysis

Rudyard Kipling’s “If” Analysis: Timeless Gems of Masculine Wisdom

Written in 1895, Rudyard Kipling’s “If” is now widely regarded as a gemstone in the world of poetry. It was written in the form of masculine guidance, for his son, “John,” in which he passes down timeless wisdom by which his son should live by.

Unfortunately, many men nowadays lack this masculine guidance—whether it’s because we had absentee fathers, or because our fathers just weren’t in touch with their masculinity, most of us don’t ever get straight-shooting, no-bullshit advice on how to live life as a man.

So, today, I’ve decided to go in depth on this poem, in the hopes that we all may learn from Kipling’s masculine wisdom. Here’s my analysis of his poem, “If.”

 

The Poem

rudyard kipling if analysis

This poem comes from Rudyard Kipling’s “Rewards and Fairies,” published in 1910.

 

Lines 1-4 Analysis

“If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,”

 

Part of masculinity has always been related to stoicism. For the better part of history, men had to be able to control their emotions and remain calm and collected, even in the most dire of situations. Mastery, of your own emotions and of your skills, is one of the 4 tactical virtues of masculinity, after all.

Even when everything outside of you is going to shit, and crumbling down beside you, it is important for a man to maintain control over his own mental faculties—for if he loses control of his own mind, what does he have?

Rudyard Kipling makes it very clear that others will blame you when everything goes to shit, even if you were there trying to stop it from happening. I’ve learned this first hand. Most people are lazy and weak, and expect you to take care of them—and when you don’t, they blame you, rather than themselves.

It is in peoples’ nature to blame others for their own problems—even when this happens, you must remain strong and stoic. You must 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;”

 

Many other men will doubt you, especially if you’re trying to improve yourself. There are few things people hate more than someone trying to improve himself.

I first encountered this when I got into working out—everybody around me, including my family, was out of shape and lazy. I thought that they would be proud of me for working out and improving myself, but they weren’t, because my own determination and discipline reflected their complete lack of will power.

They tried to tempt me all of the time by offering me garbage food, and little remarks were thrown out here and there in an attempt to undermine my resolve.

rudyard kipling if analysis

But, I kept going—I trusted in myself, as Rudyard Kipling says. I trusted in my ability to overcome obstacles, no matter the size (in retrospect, this was a very small obstacle, but still important for my development). Because of this self-trust, and because I didn’t give a shit what others said, I’m now pretty jacked and pretty successful.

However, the flip side of this, is that you have to “make allowance for their doubting too,” or you have to consider what they’re saying. Sometimes, people may be right—sometimes you may be wrong. It’s important to have conviction in your own path, but to also be open to criticism. This is one of the many paradoxes of self-development.

 

Lines 5-8 Analysis

“If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,”

 

A big part of success is that you have to wait. You have to be patient. Any big goal takes time—whether it be starting a business, building a better body, or getting a college degree. Things take time. In fact, anything worthwhile in this world takes time to accomplish.

On your journey towards accomplishing your goals, however, people will lie about you. They will betray you, they will stab you in the back, and they will gossip about you—however you must not “deal in lies.” Don’t stoop to their level. Gossiping behind other men’s backs is pathetic. It’s cowardly, and it’s weak.

I’ll give you an example—my second year at college, I moved into a new dorm…and it was co-ed. There was a lot of hot girls, and I was determined to bed some of them. A few had shown interest and I was getting invites to “grab dinner and hang out” left and right.

But one guy, let’s call him “Jack,” didn’t like this too much. Suddenly, girls that were once warm with me began to avoid me—and I couldn’t figure out why. Until I had a conversation with Jack’s roommate.

rudyard kipling if analysis

Apparently Jack had been spreading rumors behind my back. Like a little girl, he talked shit behind my back. Too weak to step up to the plate himself, and too cowardly to confront me directly, he resorted to sneaky, passive-aggressive tactics.

And they worked at first—but eventually people caught on. They saw that Jack wouldn’t stop talking shit about me, and I never said one bad thing about Jack. They saw that he was “dealing in lies,” and I wasn’t. Jack’s plan to ruin my reputation through gossip backfired—the whole social circle in our dorm isolated him and welcomed me back.

I realize that it will be very tempting to lie about others or talk shit, but don’t—talking shit about others is a hallmark sign of insecurity and weakness. What you’re really saying when you talk shit about others is that you’re upset they have the courage to be themselves and step up…and that you don’t.

 

“Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:”

 

You have to accept that others will hate you—this is just a fact of life. In fact, as many before me have said, if nobody hates you, you’re probably not being genuine enough. As Aristotle said: “A friend to all is a friend to none.”

When you strive to better yourself and improve the quality of your life, like crabs in a bucket, others will hate you for doing what they can’t. Just ignore them—“don’t give way to hating.” Don’t become a hater. Just focus on yourself.

At the same time, don’t act like you’re better than them—don’t get arrogant. Don’t “look too good, nor talk too wise,” don’t brag about yourself and your accomplishments. This is just another form of insecurity.

Instead, just hunker down and focus on improving yourself. Don’t listen to the haters, don’t buy into what they say, and don’t respond to them—just completely ignore them. If you can, establish firm boundaries and kick them out of your life.

 

Lines 10-13 Analysis

“If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;”

 

Most men don’t make it past the “dreaming” stage. They have an idea for something. Maybe it’s a book, a business, or an invention. But they never pull the trigger—they spend all of their life just dreaming and dreaming, always coming up with excuses as to why they can’t pull the trigger NOW.

They make dreams their master, rather than actions. The second line is very related to this—many people make thoughts their aim, without ever actually taking action. In fact, most men get paralyzed by information overload. They read for YEARS about how to do something, but never actually take action and do it.

They have these bullshit stories that they tell themselves about how they’ll start once “this” happens or once “that” stops happening, but it’s all a load of horse crap. Really, they’re just terrified of failure and search for excuses to justify their inaction.

Part of being a man is taking action, or embodying masculine energy. You must become a man of action. See what you want, think up a plan, and then take massive action. This is the closest thing to a magic pill for success that I can think of.

That’s it—there’s no secret or weird trick to become successful. It’s just about being decisive. Just fucking decide what you want, and take action to get it. Don’t make dreams your master or thoughts your aim, yet don’t forget to dream, and don’t forget to think.

However, there’s a flip side—Rudyard Kipling doesn’t say not to think or dream, but he says not to make them your master. Still dream! Never lose that childlike innocence that gives life its joy. Still think! Don’t surrender your ability to think. But just don’t make them your aim; don’t make them your masters.

 

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;”

 

In your life, you will likely meet both triumph and disaster…more than once. There have been plenty of times where things have absolutely gone to shit for me, and times where everything has come together perfectly.

And do you know what I’ve learned from this? Triumph and disaster don’t exist—they’re figments of the imagination. There are plenty of disasters that really turn out to be triumphs, and plenty of triumphs that turn out to be disasters.

It’s all a part of the cycles of self-development. Sometimes what seems like a massive failure, is actually an opportunity to learn from. Then, when you learn from it, you’ll experience massive success. Other times, massive blessings actually turn out to be curses in disguise.

When I was a sophomore in college, I decided to start a fraternity. Some friends and I started a chapter of Kappa Delta Rho, and within just one year it was an upper-middle tier fraternity on campus.

I spent hours and hours attending functions and hundreds of dollars paying dues—and do you know what I did next? After nearly $1,000 spent in dues and over 100 hours attending fraternity functions, I decided to leave them.

I wanted to focus on other things—and I couldn’t do that with such a huge time and money commitment. So, I decided to drop the fraternity in my junior year, and it really, really sucked at first.

I went from going to huge parties with dozens of hot girls every weekend to sitting in my dorm room alone, texting non-fraternity friends seeing if they knew of any parties. At first, it seemed like a huge disaster. I had cut my social circle in half and barely had any parties to go to.

rudyard kipling if analysis

But, in retrospect, it was a triumph. Over the next few months I learned how to build a social circle from scratch, which is something that takes most people years to do. In short, what seemed like a disaster, was also a triumph. It sucked at first, but I learned a whole bunch of skills that are applicable to life.

Conversely, there are plenty of things that seem to be triumphs, yet that are really disasters. You see this a lot when guys first start off learning game. They start getting more comfortable around girls, and land their first hot babe – more often than not, they fall in love instantly.

And it seems like a triumph to them at first. After all, they just had sex with a gorgeous woman. How is this not a triumph? But then, they realize that she doesn’t give a shit about them—she has sex with players all of the time, and he was just another cool dude who she met at the club.

For a lot of guys, it breaks their heart (the disaster part) and they go through a cycle of hating women. Then, they realize that this all happened because they were needy—they fell in love so fast, because they wanted her to give them emotional validation.

So, what was first a triumph, became a disaster, and then became a triumph, because it allowed them to uncover their undealt with emotional problems.

Do you see the point here? Triumph and disaster are just fucking words—they don’t mean anything. They’re just mental constructs that we use to describe our subjective reality. The truth is that triumph and disaster are often one and the same, which is why Rudyard Kipling says to “treat those two impostors just the same.”

 

Lines 14-17 Analysis

“If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,”

 

Your words will be twisted, especially if you’re a man who stands up for what you believe in. When you aren’t afraid to offend anyone, and you just tell it how it is, a lot of people will despise you, because they’re too weak to stand up for themselves. Think of how many times the media has twisted politicians’ words, pickup artists’ teachings, and more?

Most people, instead of bettering themselves, will just twist your words—and like Rudyard Kipling says, fools will fall for it. I remember when a famous pickup artist got banned from several countries a few years ago, because the mainstream media caught onto what he was doing.

He was actually helping thousands of men attain better dating lives, but did the media focus on that? Of course not. They twisted his words and made him seem like some giant sexist asshole who goes around and rapes women all of the time. And, just like Rudyard predicted, the fools fell for it.

rudyard kipling if analysis

The mainstream media specializes at this.

However, you must “bear to hear” it—understand that not everybody is as strong willed as you, and not everybody is as honest as you. Some people are just retarded, and watch 4 hours of mainstream news every day, blindly believing what they’re told.

Accept that some people will dislike you and will twist your words in a pathetic attempt to discredit you. Pay them no attention and continue on with your life. In a decade you’ll see who the real fool is (hint: it’s them).

“Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:”

 

This one will hit home very hard for any entrepreneur. Being one myself, there’s been plenty of times where previous business ventures didn’t work out. I’ve lost thousands in the stock market, I’ve wasted hundreds of hours on business pursuits that didn’t pan out, and more.

Sometimes, things just aren’t going to go your way. Maybe you invested your life into a certain career, only to find out that you now hate it. Maybe you spent the last 4 years in a relationship and found out that your girlfriend was cheating on you.

Maybe you slaved over your business 80 hours a week, only to have a competitor beat you out. Sometimes, things just won’t work the way you expected them to. But you cannot let this dissuade you from your purpose.

You must “stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools,” as Rudyard Kipling says. Rather than complaining that the universe is unfair, or making excuses, you just accept the fact that everything went to shit, and you start anew.

This is the only thing that you can do. Complaining won’t change anything, and neither will getting angry. All that you can do is rebuild your own little Rome from the crumbled bricks that remain. And, in fact, as you take on new ventures, you’ll realize that your previous failures prepared you to succeed.

 

Lines 18-21 Analysis

“If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,”

 

Part of being a man means taking risks. If you don’t take risks, you will never accomplish anything worthwhile. I’ve taken plenty of risks in the stock market, and although some of them have failed, I’ve refined my skills and am now able to triple my money in record time.

Cortes took a risk when he sailed to South America and dared to conquer the natives. Did he know what was ahead of him, when he sailed thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean, to conquer unknown lands? No, but he did it anyway. He took the risk.

Alexander the Great took a risk when he traveled eastward, to unknown territories. He wanted Macedonia to be the best god damn country in the history of the planet, and arguably, it was—he went down as one of “the Greats,” which only a handful of men can call themselves.

rudyard kipling if analysis

The Founding Fathers took a risk when they signed the Declaration of Independence, not knowing if they would hang. But, because they believed in the principles of freedom and liberty, they were willing to fucking die for it.

The point is, that every man must take calculated risks for what he believes in. Sometimes life demands that we take risks if we wish to accomplish our goals. In fact, life almost ALWAYS demands that we take risks if we want to accomplish our goals.

And, funny enough, life also has a way of rewarding those who are brave enough to take risks. When you prepare yourself accordingly, and take smart risks, you’ll find yourself “magically” succeeding.

“And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;”

 

But, sometimes the risks you take don’t push you towards greatness. In fact, sometimes they just plain blow up in your face. Sometimes you lose everything. I can certainly remember this happening to me.

A while ago, I was convinced that a certain stock was going to blow up. “I’m 100% sure,” I thought to myself. “There’s no way it will ever go down.” So, I invested literally all of my money into this stock.

Within a few weeks it had gone down 30%. I held onto it, telling myself that it would go up eventually. Soon I was down 40%, 50%, 60%…and lower every day. Eventually I pulled my savings out, but they were greatly depleted. I was distressed to say the least.

But, even though I lost thousands of dollars, I’m glad that I took the risk. It’s better to try and fail than to never try at all—even though I lost a ton of money, I’m glad that I had the balls to take a chance.

Cowards may read this and make fun of me for being so stupid, but they won’t ever amount to anything. They’ll be sitting in their little rooms talking shit about other people while I’m out trying to improve my life and change the world.

And what’s more—when you take risks, even if everything turns out to be a “disaster,” …remember that it will often turn into a triumph. When I lost all of that money, I went back and figured out where I went wrong. I sifted through the facts and misconceptions and came to a conclusion as to where I fucked up.

And then, I invested in a stock in December of 2015 that doubled within 3 months (I tweeted about it here). If I hadn’t made the first mistake, I wouldn’t have been able to learn from it. But, because I did, and because I had the courage to “start again at my beginnings,” I was able to make a killing.

At the same time, I never “breathed a word of my loss.” Not in the sense that I didn’t talk about it—I’m talking about it right now.

But, rather, in the sense that I wasn’t eager to breathe it. I didn’t complain about it, I didn’t bring it up if it wasn’t relevant to the conversation, and I didn’t act like a victim. I just accepted that I made a fucking mistake and moved on.

This is what a man should do—don’t bask in your self-pity or act like a victim, just suck it up and move on.

 

Lines 22-25 Analysis

“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!’

 

This is applicable to both the short term and long term. An example of this in the short term would be working out. There’s something in the fitness world, which is known as the “transcendent rep,” which embodies this part of the poem very nicely.

The transcendent rep, is that repetition where every single fiber in your body is telling you to give up, but through sheer will power and mental force you’re able to continue on.

If you can force your body to serve your mind, far beyond what most people would view as possible, then you are well on your way to being a man. Think of the warriors of old—our ancestors who fought to protect their wives and villages from invaders.

Imagine what it would be like, for them to fight in battle—after hours of blood and violence, somehow they’re able to continue. It’s because they have something that they’re fighting for; they have a strong sense of purpose, which drives them to persevere despite their bodies’ exhaustion.

This is what Rudyard Kipling is referring to—when a man can force himself to continue onward, despite every ounce of his body crying for relief, he is worthy of the utmost admiration.

rudyard kipling if analysis

This sends chills down my spine

This is also applicable in the long run when a man is on a path in life, and nothing seems to be working out. Maybe you’ve been trying to shred pounds of fat, and you’ve been at it for months, but you’re just so damn tired; you just want to give up.

Or maybe you’re struggling to provide for your family, or to support yourself as an aspiring musician, but you somehow find the inner strength to keep pushing onward. Whatever the case may be, the grind, day in and day out, can be excruciatingly painful…especially when there’s no hope.

But you have to hold on, as Rudyard Kipling says. You have to “force your heart and nerve and sinew.” And, often times, you’ll find that when you do, everything turns out just the way you need it to.

 

Lines 26-29 Analysis

“If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,”

In your life you will encounter all types of people—some will help you on your mission, and some won’t. But, you can at least learn something from everyone. By being able to talk with the crowds, yet keep your virtue, you demonstrate that you’re not a product of your environment.

Most people, if put into a group, will start to take up the culture surrounding them. Not consciously, to fit in, but subconsciously, because they’re weak minded individuals. If, however, as Rudyard Kipling says, you can talk with crowds yet keep your virtue, then you will be a man.

A man determines his virtues for himself, and stands strong upon them—he does not let the crowds determine his morality for him. A man is aware of what he wants, what he thinks, and what he feels, on a very intimate level. He determines his own reality, rather than having others determine it for him.

Conversely, being able to walk with the “social elite,” if you will, yet not lose the common touch, is a huge feat. Many people, when surrounded by high caliber men and women, become distant—they come to view themselves as gods, almost. As if they’re better than the “lower class.”

Never forget that we’re all cut from the same cloth. Nobody is inherently better or worse than any of us. A cursory glance at our history will reveal ample stories of peasants rising to royalty, attaining the highest of feats, and kings and emperors, succumbing to lower human desires and ruining their empires.

A man must be able to walk with peasants and kings, all the while never sacrificing himself to fit in with either. Be comfortable with yourself, and all types of people will be comfortable with you as well.

 

“If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;”

 

A man must remain stoic in the face of criticism—he must remain stoic in the face of the external world.

Not in some sort of dysfunctional way, such as by repressing his emotions, but rather because he is deeply confident in himself and in his abilities, to the point that nothing outside of him even fazes him. Most people will understand Rudyard Kipling’s wisdom of not letting foes hurt you, but friends?

rudyard kipling if analysis

What Rudyard Kipling is saying here is that you must be so determined, so on your path, that nothing else matters. Yes, it may make you sad to see a friend leave you or betray you, but not in a “deep” way.

It won’t sway you from your mission, it won’t deeply affect you—rather it’s sort of something just happening on the “outside,” that has a minor affect on you. You’re sad that a friend might leave you or disagree with you, but ultimately, you realize that if they’re not committed to walking beside you on the journey, they weren’t really your friend in the first place.

This is very related to the second part where Rudyard Kipling talks about men counting with you. What he’s saying is that you must be a man on a mission—you must have your own purpose. Once you do this, you will find other men whose purposes align with yours.

But they must not “count with you too much,” or in other words, they must not abandon their purpose solely for the sake of following you—this is a recipe for disaster. They aren’t real men if they’re willing to do this.

Rather, you should strive to be a man on your purpose and to magnetically attract other men whose purposes are similar to yours. They must “count with you, but none too much.”

Rather than having a bunch of boys follow you, you must have men follow you—not because they gain some sort of emotional validation out of doing so. Not because you serve as a “father figure” to them, but because they want to follow you.

They want to band together with you, so that you may all accomplish more together. You all count—at your own paces, yet together, because you share a common goal.

 

Lines 30-33 Analysis

“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!”

 

Rudyard Kipling does not disregard the importance of a man’s physical abilities—and often, high intensity physical activities are a good measure of a man’s general health, as well as his level of discipline and mental fortitude.

As mentioned in my article on primal masculinity, physical ability is one of the primary differences between men and women. Being able to sprint for a solid 60 seconds is very physically taxing—and if a man can do this, he is clearly in good physical shape, and thus capable of protecting his loved ones.

What’s interesting, however, is that Rudyard Kipling values masculinity more than this—and for good reason. He values characteristics like honor, courage, fortitude, and perseverance.

He says that if you can have these characteristics, then not only will the earth be yours, but you’ll be a man. Having all of these skills and character traits that Rudyard Kipling mentions will give you success in whatever you choose—if you look at anyone who is successful, you will see that they have the traits that Rudyard Kipling mentions.

rudyard kipling if analysis

Successful men don’t complain or pull others down, they’re not afraid to take risks, they don’t talk shit about others, and they learn from their disasters.

Do you think that Steve Jobs gossiped about Bill Gates behind his back? About how Microsoft is “uncool,” or about how they’re breaking monopoly laws? No—he just fucking focused on building Apple into the worldwide tech giant that it is.

Do you think that John Lennon was afraid to get rejected from a record label? Maybe because his music was “too out there,” or would offend a conservative public? No. He understood that part of the game is getting rejected. Men who internalize this principle will have whatever they want in life.

Rudyard Kipling states that being a man is more…”And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!” and he capitalizes the word “Man.” This makes two things very, very clear.

First, the capitalization “Man,” suggests that Rudyard Kipling is referring to some sort of an archetype—a sort of “model” of man, which all man should strive to be. A Masculine spirit, or the ideal man, if you will. Second, he also makes it very clear that your character is of more worth than any worldly possessions—and he’s right.

What good is having a yacht and a Lamborghini, if on your death bed, you look back at your life and regret not helping others? What good are material possessions, if all they provide is but a fleeting satisfaction?

Nothing comes close to the satisfaction of developing yourself as a man. Nothing comes close to the sense of pride and confidence in yourself that takes years to develop. Ultimately, when any great man looks back at his life, what does he think of?

Does he think of money, or physical possessions? No. He never does. He thinks of the risks that he took, he thinks of the women that he loved, he thinks of the children that he created, and he thinks about what he’s leaving behind, as he passes into the next life.

I will leave you with the following thought:

“And what do you benefit, if you gain the whole world, yet lose your soul?” -Jesus of Nazareth

About the Author Jon Anthony

Jon Anthony is a dating coach, fitness expert, and self-improvement guru. He dropped out of college to start Masculine Development in 2015, and has since been self-employed, helping men across the world achieve their best lives. You can best reach him on social media, or via email for questions.

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