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RUDYARD KIPLING’S IF – The Nation’s Favourite Poems. 1996. BBC Books. 

 

The well-known poem from Brother Square Toes, in Kiplings’ Rewards And Fairies is often voted as a favourite in opinion polls on the best of British verse. It won the BBC Radio Four’s ‘Nation’s Favourite Poems Competition. Classic FM Radio listeners gave it second place in a similar survey. Many poetry anthologies include the poem. It is sadly one of the worst of its kind ever written. Kipling could be a great writer, with The Just So-Stories, The Jungle Books, and poems like Gunga Din to be justifiably proud of, but If is truly insufferable. It simply consists of a Father’s humbling advise to his son about keeping calm when everyone else gets agitated, and somehow being better behaved than everybody else. In some ways, it is an open call to our children to behave like snobs. It isn’t really advisable to keep level headed if everyone else is panicking. They may be agitated for good reason, and so you should be too. If a plane is crashing, or a ship sinking, the cool customer who holds back from lifeboats and parachutes is probably going to perish. A poem like IF gets printed on coffee mugs and bath towels and wall plaques. It often serves as a pale substitute for giving personal spontaneous advice. Fathers and mothers simply give heir children a copy of the poem and let Kipling do their job for them. One situation where Kipling tells you to keep calm is when others are holding you accountable for their problems. This may be because you actually messed up and caused them some trouble. Not being thick skinned enough to accept that you might be wrong is arrogant, and potentially the attitude of a sociopath. It is manlier to own up, and accept a need to improve than to stoically maintain your preconceptions and pursue the same course as before. It is certainly not advice I would pass on to my children. I’d use t it to advise them to do exactly the opposite. http://www.blupete.com/Literature/Poetry/KiplingIf.htm

 

Arthur Chappell

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