I had the poem If by Rudyard Kipling back in school, but then, I didn’t have the life experience to appreciate it. Today, on World Poetry Day, I would like to attempt to deconstruct the poem from my life experiences. I would have deconstructed more poems but I’ll leave that for next year. After all, to speak in a poetic sense, you can hold eternity in the palm of your hand. And I think I can cumulate all my life lessons by writing about this one gift to us all by Kipling.
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;
I have been falsely accused of something I didn’t do, or shall we say, my side of the story was hidden completely. As a result, I had to face everyone with a lowered head, because I knew what they were thinking – “This guy is a jerk.” I could see that it wasn’t their fault because they didn’t know the truth. Not saying that it wasn’t my fault, but I certainly didn’t deserve the contempt in other people’s eyes. Thankfully, I had enough inner steel to fight that sinking feeling you have in your stomach when something like that happens. And that inner steel is reinforced when you read a poem as resonant as this one.
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:
I’ll tell you a story. There was a time when I had a massive fight with a friend of mine. I hated every bit of the aftermath. It was gut-wrenching. I tried to mend things but it would only deepen my wounds, since the other person wanted things to stay the way they were. In the end, I had no choice but to wait for the storm to pass. Thankfully, it did, and when the same situation arises between me and that friend, I know how to wait and not be tired by waiting. I learnt this lesson the hard way.
As for the other lines, I think my explanation of the first four lines covers that.
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;
Probably, the most oft quoted line from the poem, this line is very easy to appreciate, but equally hard to imbibe. Thankfully, I have had experiences where I have been extremely ambitious but realized that ambition is not everything. You need to be nice to people around you too. As for treating triumph and disaster the same way, I feel it is a way of not being too bothered by the result, but trusting the process. That is what the last two lines of this poem also speaks about.
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:
This happens to me often. Since I don’t gossip, people do make up stuff about me so as to entertain or amuse themselves and their gossip buddy. I can deal with it pretty easily, since I am a bit of an antisocial person. I don’t like people that much, so it’s okay if they don’t like me back. They can twist and spin the facts as much as they want, I won’t give two hoots.
Secondly, I would like to narrate another story. During one of my internships, I tried really hard to be absorbed into the organization. I was punctual, diligent, hardworking and gave my blood and sweat. Unfortunately, I didn’t get absorbed and felt like all my hardwork was in vain. Yet, the lesson I learnt was that if ever something like that happens again, I’ll be able to handle it in a better way.
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;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
Again, there have been instances where I have wanted to quit a relationship, because I was too sick and tired of all the thorns that had grown instead of the roses. Yet, I stayed put, prayed to god, waited without being tired and thankfully, the storm passed in a few months.
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!
I have tried to refine my speech (make it kinder and softer), so that I can walk with kings or highly influential people. As for talking with crowds, I do not scoff at them or think they are inferior. Instead, I try and see how they can be happy in life despite being less privileged than me.
As for not allowing friends to hurt me, I am still struggling to learn that. I can work hard though. And make time count. But, maybe I am not filling unforgiving minutes with sixty seconds of distance run as often as I would like, which is why, the earth and everything’s that’s in it is still not mine. Hopefully, by the next World Poetry Day, I’ll have a better story to tell.