"If—" is a poem by English Nobel laureate Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936), written circa 1895 as a tribute to Leander Starr Jameson. It is a literary example of Victorian-era stoicism. The poem, first published in Rewards and Fairies (1910), ch. 'Brother Square-Toes,' is written in the form of paternal advice to the poet's son, John.
|by Rudyard Kipling|
A Doubleday, Page & Co. edition from 1910
|First published in||Rewards and Fairies|
|Publisher||Doubleday, Page & Company|
"If—" first appeared in the "Brother Square Toes" chapter of the book Rewards and Fairies, a collection of Kipling's poetry and short-story fiction, published in 1910. In his posthumously published autobiography, Something of Myself (1937), Kipling said that, in writing the poem, he was inspired by the character of Leander Starr Jameson, leader of the failed Jameson Raid against the Transvaal Republic to overthrow the Boer Government of Paul Kruger. The failure of that mercenary coup d'état aggravated the political tensions between Great Britain and the Boers, which led to the Second Boer War (1899–1902).
As an evocation of Victorian-era stoicism—the "stiff upper lip" self-discipline, which popular culture rendered into a British national virtue and character trait, "If—" remains a cultural touchstone. The British cultural-artefact status of the poem is evidenced by the parodies of the poem, and by its popularity among Britons.
In Britain, the third and fourth lines of the second stanza of the poem: "If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster / and treat those two impostors just the same" are written on the wall of the players' entrance to the Centre Court at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, where the Wimbledon Championships are held. (These same lines appear at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, New York, where the US Open was played.) The first verse is set, in granite setts, into the pavement of the promenade in Westward Ho! in Devon.
Charles McGrath, a former deputy editor of The New Yorker and a former editor of the New York Times Book Review, wrote that when he was in school, "they had to recite Kipling's "If" every day, right after the Pledge of Allegiance: "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!""
In popular cultureEdit
In 1914 the New Zealand School Journal published the poem without asking permission following the outbreak of World War I. The Education Department wrote to the publishers and offered to pay a "reasonable fee." Kipling, who routinely turned down requests to publish "If—", asked for £50 (the equivalent of £5000 in 2018) to settle the matter. The Solicitor-General said that the Crown was not bound by the New Zealand Copyright Act of 1913, and could reprint the whole of Kipling's works if it chose. Records do not show if the settlement was paid or not.
There is a classical translation in French by André Maurois, who was an interpreter with the British Army during the First World War. It was published in Les silences du colonel Bramble (1921), chap. XIV (Collection Poche, pp. 93s.). In Portuguese, the most widely-circulated translation is by Félix Bermudes.
In Apocalypse Now, when the photojournalist played by Dennis Hopper meets Capt Willard, played by Martin Sheen, he spouts a few lines of the first stanza during his drug-fueled, frenzied greeting while trying to relay how much he admires Colonel Kurtz.
Reebok produced a shoe commercial in 1993 featuring Basketball Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Willis Reed, Bill Walton, and John Wooden reciting "If—" to then-NBA rookie Shaquille O'Neal.
The book by David Weber, March Upcountry, references this poem.
The first lines of the poem are used as a password in the 2015 film Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.
In Mike Bassett: England Manager (2001), the protagonist Mike Bassett (played by Ricky Tomlinson) recited the whole poem in the middle of a pre-match press conference on the eve of the England v Argentina final group stage match at the fictional 2002 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Pressed by a hostile group of reporters who were highly critical of the England football national team's performance in their first two group matches at the World Cup and staring at an early exit from the tournament in the event of an unfavorable result against Argentina, Mike Bassett finds himself voluntarily reciting the poem under the stress, and emphasized at the end of the poem that England will go on to play the match with his favored formation (although much maligned by the press and public) of 4–4–2.
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- Abdul-Jabbar, Kareem (2017). Coach Wooden and me : our 50-year friendship on and off the court (First trade paperback ed.). New York: Grand Central Publishing. p. 255. ISBN 978-1455542260. OCLC 1003309466.
- H. Fielding, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (Picador 2000) p. 308
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- "Spacey narrates Kipling's 'If' to honor Ortiz".
- Maine, D'Arcy (March 9, 2017). Serena Williams recites Rudyard Kipling's poem 'If—' for International Women's Day. ESPN.com
- Perraudin, Frances (19 July 2018). Manchester University students paint over Rudyard Kipling mural. The Guardian.
- Mike Bassett: England Manager (2001), IMDB
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