PERSONALITY DEVELOPMENT THROUGH RUDYARD KING’S POEM, ‘IF-’
V. S. Rabindranath Dr. V.S.Krishna Govt. Degree College (Autonomous) Visakhapatnam
Poetry is a literary work in which the expression of feelings and ideas is given intensity by the use of distinctive style and rhythm. According to Wordsworth it is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings. Many poems earn fame because of their ability to inspire others. Such poems give people the internal strength they need to overcome a problem, reach a goal, or let go of their resentment or guilt. Poems can even inspire people to work towards a cause or become a better person. Many famous poets had the keen ability to use the written word to reach hearts and souls, motivating people to action. They used their gift in the most noble of ways by creating inspirational poems that touched, and continue to touch, people with a positive message even today. In Sanskrit, Bhartruhari’s Subhashithas are known for their moral teachings.
In English literature, the poetry has taken different variations through different literary periods. For example, an emphasis on emotional and imaginative spontaneity is the striking feature of Romanticism of early 18th century. Likewise, the issue of morality in poetry is influential throughout the mid-20th Century. Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘If’, probably one of the poems with shortest titles, is a great poem which is directly linked with personality development. Almost every line in each stanza begins with “If”. It first appeared in his collection ‘Rewards and Fairies’ in 1909. It is inspirational, motivational, and a set of rules for ‘grown-up’ living. It contains mottos and maxims for life, and the poem is also a blueprint for personal integrity, behaviour and self-development. In the poem ‘If’, Rudyard Kipling brings out the qualities that any young man should possess. Told in the form of a father’s advice to his son, it is a sermon on morals and manners. The father advises his son not to lose heart when blamed, doubted and hated. He should not try to look too good or too clever. He should not live in the world of dreams. Similarly he should not make only thoughts as his aims. He must treat victory and defeat equally. He must not feel let down when he loses something built over a long period of time. He should be ready to start all over again. He should never lose his will power.
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!
The father advises his son not to lose great qualities when on mingles with common people and similarly must not leave the common touch while dealing with the rich and the great. Neither foes nor friends can hurt him. He must make use of every second in his life in order to realize his dreams that alone will make him worthy of anything in the world. Only then he will be a Man i.e. an ideal human being. 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 benchmark. The British cultural-artefact status of the poem is evidenced by the parodies of the poem, and by its popularity among Britons.
While the poem is addressed to Kipling’s son John, it was inspired by a great friend of his, Leander Starr Jameson, the Scots-born colonial politician and adventurer responsible for what has been deemed the Jameson raid that led to the Second Boer War. The raid was intended to start an uprising among the British expatriate workers in the South African Republic, but there were complications and it was a failure. Jameson was arrested and tried, but he was already being hailed a hero by London, which was filled with anti-Boer sentiment. He served only fifteen months in prison and later became Prime Minister of Cape Colony back in South Africa. It appears that Kipling had met Jameson and befriended him through Cecil Rhodes, the Prime Minister of Cape Colony at the time of the raid.
The virtues expressed in “If-” are devoid of showiness or glamour; it is notable that Kipling says nothing of heroic deeds or great wealth or fame. For him the true measure of a man is his humility and his stoicism. Kipling’s biographer, Andrew Lycett, considers the poem one of the writer’s finest and notes in 2009 that “If-” is absolutely valuable even in the complicated postmodern world: “In these straitened times, the old-fashioned virtues of fortitude, responsibilities and resolution, as articulated in ‘If-‘, become ever more important.” Khushwant Singh, one of the deities of this blog, wrote this about IF, reviewing the Book of Prayer by Renuka Narayanan in The Outlook a while back:
“I look upon this poem as the essence of the message of The Gita in English…”
Lord Krishna tells Arjuna that ‘Sthithaprajna’ is one who has relinquished all desire and is contented in his present state. He has conquered grief, fear, greed, and other emotions. He neither revels in happiness, nor rancours in adversity. ‘If’ too explores various dimensions and possibilities of such a personality, some of which are more dramatic than envisaged by the Gita, like staking one’s all, or strolling with a King. 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. 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. It is a poignant reflection of the poem’s timeless and inspiring quality.
In all literary excellence surveys since 1995 conducted in Great Britain, ‘If’ has consistently beaten others by heavy margins. ‘If’ is perhaps even more relevant today than when Kipling wrote it, as the characteristic spirit of a culture and a personal philosophy.