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"If—" is a poem by English Nobel laureate Rudyard Kipling, written circa 1895[1] as a tribute to Leander Starr Jameson. It is a literary example of Victorian-era stoicism.[2] 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.[3]

by Rudyard Kipling
Kipling If (Doubleday 1910).jpg
A Doubleday, Page & Co. edition from 1910
First published inRewards and Fairies
PublisherDoubleday, Page & Company
Publication date1910 (109 years ago) (1910)


"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,[4] 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).[5][6]


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[es];
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your [or our] turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on [to it] 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 [on you,] 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!


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.[7] The British cultural-artefact status of the poem is evidenced by the parodies of the poem, and by its popularity among Britons.[8][9]

T. S. Eliot included the poem in his 1941 collection A Choice of Kipling's Verse.

In India, a framed copy of the poem was affixed to the wall before the study desk in the cabins of the officer cadets at the National Defence Academy at Pune, and Indian Naval Academy at Ezhimala.[10]

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.[3] (These same lines appear at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, New York, where the US Open was played.)[11] The first verse is set, in granite setts, into the pavement of the promenade in Westward Ho! in Devon.[12]

The Indian writer Khushwant Singh considered the poem "the essence of the message of The Gita in English."[13]

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 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.[14]

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.).[citation needed] In Portuguese, the most widely-circulated translation is by Félix Bermudes.

On 21 September 1938 the Czech journal Přítomnost published the poem in the place of editorial (as a reaction on the situation before the Munich dictate).[15]

The cab driver character Alex (Judd Hirsch) begins the poem and it is finished by the unlikely character Jim (Christopher Lloyd) in season 2 episode 22 of the television show Taxi.

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.

In The Simpsons, Grandpa Simpson quotes an abbreviated portion in "Old Money" as justification to betting all the winnings of a recent inheritance at roulette.[16]

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.[17][18]

The book by David Weber “March Upcountry” references this poem. (2001)[19]

The fictional character Bridget Jones is powerfully struck by "If—": "Poem is good. Very good, almost like self-help book".[20]

Brand New adapted part of the second stanza of the poem for the lyrics of their 2006 song "Sowing Season".[citation needed]

The poem was adapted and performed as a song by Joni Mitchell on her 2007 album Shine.[21]

The first lines of the poem are used as a password in the 2015 film Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.

In 2016, the Boston Red Sox used the poem in a short video tribute to retiring player David Ortiz, narrated by Kevin Spacey.[22]

Tennis player Serena Williams recited a version of the poem for International Women’s Day 2017, substituting 'woman' for 'man'.[23]

In July 2018 students of Manchester University defaced a mural with the poem written on it, and replaced it with Still I Rise by Maya Angelou, saying that Kipling "dehumanised people of colour".[24]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "If by Rudyard Kipling : If, poem by Rudyard Kipling : Poems 007". Archived from the original on 10 February 2017. Retrieved 25 July 2018.
  2. ^ Osborne, Kristen (28 April 2013). McKeever, Christine (ed.). "Rudyard Kipling: Poems Study Guide: Summary and Analysis of "If—"". GradeSaver. Retrieved 29 May 2013.
  3. ^ a b Wansell, Geoffrey (20 February 2009). "The remarkable story behind Rudyard Kipling's 'If' – and the swashbuckling renegade who inspired it". Mail Online. Associated Newspapers. Retrieved 29 May 2013.
  4. ^ Kipling, Rudyard. "Something of Myself." Rudyard Kipling: Something of Myself and Other Autobiographical Writings. Ed. Thomas Pinney. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1991. p. 111. Print.
  5. ^ "The New Britannica Encyclopædia", 15th Edition, volume 6, pp. 489–90.
  6. ^ Halsall, Paul (July 1998). "Rudyard Kipling: If". Internet History Sourcebooks Project. Fordham University. Retrieved 6 November 2011.
  7. ^ "Spartans and Stoics – Stiff Upper Lip". ICONS of England. Culture24. Archived from the original on 12 December 2009. Retrieved 20 February 2011.
  8. ^ Jones, Emma (2004). The Literary Companion. Robson. p. 25. ISBN 978-1-86105-798-3.
  9. ^ Robinson, Mike (2002). Literature and Tourism. The Thomson Corporation. p. 61. ISBN 1-84480-074-1.
  10. ^ Mishra, Piyush; (India Interrupted Blog), Anshuman. "If - Rudyard Kipling". Word Press. Retrieved 15 December 2015.
  11. ^ Smith, Liz (29 August 1966). "Round One At Forest Hills". Sports Illustrated (Volume 25, No. 9). Time Inc. Retrieved 31 December 2017.
  12. ^ "SureSet: "If" by Rudyard Kipling for Westward Ho! - Pro Landscaper - The industry's number 1 news source".
  13. ^ Khushwant Singh, Review of The Book of Prayer by Renuka Narayanan, 2001
  14. ^ "Wronged Kipling seeks £50". Stuff (Fairfax). 13 January 2018.
  15. ^ Peroutka, František (21 September 1938). "Jestliže …" (PDF). Přítomnost. year 15, volume 38: 593.
  16. ^ "The Simpsons s02e17 Episode Script | SS". Springfield! Springfield!. Retrieved 4 July 2016.
  17. ^ "Why Shaq's early marketing was so special". Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  18. ^ 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 1455542261. OCLC 1003309466.
  19. ^
  20. ^ H. Fielding, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (Picador 2000) p. 308
  21. ^ "Joni Mitchell – If – lyrics". Retrieved 16 October 2017.
  22. ^ "Spacey narrates Kipling's 'If' to honor Ortiz".
  23. ^ Maine, D'Arcy (March 9, 2017). Serena Williams recites Rudyard Kipling's poem 'If—' for International Women's Day.
  24. ^ Perraudin, Frances (19 July 2018). Manchester University students paint over Rudyard Kipling mural. The Guardian.

External linksEdit