Rudyard Kipling (1865 – 1936) was the beloved author of books like The Jungle Book and The Man Who Would be King. He was also a prolific poet, and his poem “If” has been hailed by many as the most inspirational poem of all time.

When I first heard “If,” it blew me away. The words struck me as the perfect combination of artistry and wisdom. In just 149 words, Kipling manages to list all of the qualities that beget wisdom. After reading it, you actually feel wiser.

But, like any iconic piece of art, the more we’re exposed to it, the more blind we become to its beauty. Consider the Mona Lisa: we tend to see the postcard before the painting and the creator as more myth than man.

To help you see the poem with fresh eyes I’ve attempted to retell “If” in all its glory, but with one twist. For each pithy lesson Kipling provides, I’ve included a cultural icon who embodies the teaching. 

Read slowly and savor this timeless masterpiece.

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; 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!’  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!


If you loved this poem, please share it with a friend! And let me know what you thought about it in the comments below. 

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