|by Rudyard Kipling|
A Doubleday, Page & Co. edition from 1910
|First published in||Rewards and Fairies|
|Publisher||Doubleday, Page & Company|
"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.
"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 the BBC's 1996 nationwide poll, "If..." was voted the UK's favourite poem, gaining twice as many votes as the runner-up.
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