Rudyard Kipling

A complex man and prolific poet and author. Poems include White Man's Burden and Gunga Din (for which many people despise him) and If (which many people love).

Stories include, The Jungle Book, Kim, Puck of Pook's Hill, The Just So Stories and The Light That Failed.
He wrote of SixHonestServingMen:
I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who

(Rudyard Kipling, from "The Elephant's Child" in Just So Stories).
If...

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 all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath 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!

Apparently, "IF" was first published (in 1910) in Kipling's Rewards and Fairies (ISBN 1404328696 ).

I've found that (excuse my stereotyping here) Americans in particular are drawn to the sentiment of this poem, and often the lines

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;

specifically. Can any fans of this poem shed some light on the appeal of it for me? I'd be interested to know how losing all your money gambling and then keeping it to yourself makes one a BetterMan. -- Edouard

I think the idea we're fascinated by is that if you can gamble and lose and gamble again eventually, (even inevitably, given enough tries) you will win. Its an essential concept to the American conception of entrepreneurship (and our bankruptcy laws--ie, you can start an LLC, go bust, and then start another LLC). After all, most successful business people fail in their first venture. The point is that some of the people most likely to go bankrupt are also the people most likely to try until they succeed, and then succeed spectacularly. The part about never breathing a word about your loss I think is more of a British conception, except insofar as it would affect your ability to get funding. -- Phil M

--- It's not so much about making money as losing it.To lose all your money and not winge about it shows a strong character. -- Michael M
I have always thought that section was metaphorical, referring to taking a risk in business rather than to gambling. To use your savings to start a company to sell product you believe in, and if it fails trying again rather than dwelling on your past failure.

Surely, the significant word is "winnings" which in turn implies gambling or at least something that has not been earned. Is this not preaching against the "something for nothing" philosophy that many live by?
Can any fans of this poem shed some light on the appeal of it for me?

It's risky at best to use one's own life as a measuring stick, but to give a context of sorts, here's an anecdote:

Some several years ago my wife and I had a consulting business which crashed and burned in the not-really-a-recession of 1990-1991. We clawed our way out of the financial crater, only to be killed again last year in the not-really-a-recession of 2000-2001.

Once again we've picked ourselves up, applied a bit of sticky plaster (BandAid for Americans) and turned once more toward the future rather than the past for our fortunes.

For me, that particular passage from Kipling describes persistence in the face of bad fortune - particularly poignant if you've found the dice of life glinting snake-eyes at you more than once.

We risked our financial security in the world of business and lost. And started over, and lost. And started over. Pitch-and-toss, indeed! -- GarryHamilton
It seems to me that you're not quite right, in describing the passage as advocating "persistence in the face of bad fortune". Certainly it includes that sentiment, but for me it's more a statement that it's the working, the doing, the striving that matters - not the material gain you get at the end. -- JasonAwilliams
It seems incautious to the point of being foolhardy to put all of your previous winnings into a future gamble, whether it's a business or not, and whether it succeeds or not.

Faint heart ne'er won fair lady. He who hesitates is lost. In for a penny, in for a pound. All these aphorisms speak to the necessity for guts and gusto that solving really hard problems, fixing really difficult situations, and doing really grand things all call for. If you hold back, even a little, the walls fall in on you and yours.

That said, most of the time such heroism isn't called for, and you're quite right to hedge your bets. The point of If is that what you will you do, because what you don't it won't.


One reason Americans might seem particularly drawn to these lines is perhaps because they are quoted directly in The Simpsons (although I'd be surprised if The Simpsons aren't popular in English-speaking Europe as well) by Grampa Simpson as follows (the portions in square brackets may not be word for word, and of course they couldn't quote the entire poem in a half-hour animated comedy; indeed I was surprised and delighted to hear Kipling quoted at all):
 "[I think Rudyard Kipling said it best]:
 If you can [take (*)] one heap of all your winnings 
 And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss, 
 And lose, and start again at your beginnings 
 And never breath [sic (**)] a word about your loss; 
 [then] Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it
 And - what is more - you'll be a Man, my son!"
   - Grampa Simpson
I agree with those of you who believe these lines possess metaphorical meaning. After all, the poem rhymes; it seems to me "pitch-and-toss" is included to rhyme with loss. The point in "not breathing a word about your loss" is I think avoiding the urge to complain about it or to dwell on the loss, in which case I agree with GarryHamilton concerning "persistence in the face of bad fortune". I don't think Kipling necessarily intended it to refer to gambling or even to business or material gain but rather to any sort of loss due to misfortune (loss of a loved one, for example). Perhaps JasonAwilliams has a point about it being "the striving that matters", but I get the sense that Kipling might have also been meaning to convey the idea that if you risk all your 'winings' in the hope of acquiring even more, you should be prepared for the consequences should things not go your way. Above, there is an unsigned comment asking "Is this not preaching against the "something for nothing" philosophy that many live by?" that I think hits the nail on the head. People seem to get upset when bad things happen to them and tend to blame others instead of accepting responsibility for their own actions. -- PaulAbrams

(*) Replaced 'make' with 'take' because that's how I remember it from the Simpsons. I don't know whether the above lines were quoted from Kipling 100% accurately but it seems unlikely since I think Kipling would not have mis-spelled 'breathe' but I could be wrong.
It seems to me that anyone who despises Kipling for "Gunga Din" hasn't understood it. -- GarethMcCaughan

A favorite Kipling quatrain is the prologue to "Pagett, M.P." It should be required reading for Job's comforters of all descriptions:

The toad beneath the harrow knows
Exactly where each tooth-point goes;
The butterfly upon the road
Preaches contentment to that toad.

That reminds me of a passage from William Blake's "The Four Zoas"


I sit here and read all of your remarks and I see that you have all limited the depth of the poem. Though it may seem to be metaphorical view of the "persistence in the face of bad fortune", in gambling, wealth, business, or even the loss of a loved one as implied by PaulAbrams, it seems to me, at the risk of sounding conceited, that the analyses offered thus far, while true, are ostensible views of the words of a man who truly understood life. For it is no singular aspect of life to which Kipling implies this writing but to life itself. Take his words to heart in any situation at any point of any person's life and you will find them true. For in the face of adversity, a true test of character is offered, to which only the strongest willed individuals shall imerge unscarred and triumphant. Only at such moments can we prove ourselves, not to others, but to our own minds. As to the responsibility of one's actions, I believe Napolean Hill said it best; "Success requires no explanation. Failure permits no alibis." Make of the poem what you will, yet remember always that a poem is not a message to be read, it is an emotion to be felt. Kipling's words are the key to his deepest thoughts and I believe with utmost certainty that he attempts to pass on HIS emotions in the hope that those lost, shall find themselves, and live with passion, not dispair. I want to leave you with the thoughts of a man who has helped me in my own life; with regards, GeorgeC.

" Man is made or unmade by himself; in the armoury of thought he forges the weapons by which he destroys himself; he also fashions the tools with which he builds for himself heavenly mansions of joy and strength and peace. By the right choice and true application of thought, man ascends to the Divine Perfection; by the abuse and wrong application of thought, he descends below the level of the beast. Between these two extremes are all the grades of character, and man is their maker and master.

Of all the beautiful truths pertaining to the soul which have been restored and brought to light in this age, none is more gladdening or fruitful of divine promise and confidence than this--that man is the master of thought, the moulder of character, and the maker and shaper of condition, environment, and destiny. "

- James Allen 'As A Man Thinketh'


My personal understanding of the poem in general, and that segment in particular, does not specifically relate to winning or losing, or money or business.

My interpretation is that regardless of your winnings and losings, what truly matters is your opinion of yourself; and that you are true to your own beliefs and morals. For me it ties directly to the last two lines:

	"Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
	And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son! "

Clearly the Earth and everything in it can belong to no one man; nor would Kipling think that. Rather, I think he meant that once you are in tune with your own beliefs, and live that way every day regardless of outcome, then you can be controlled by no person, place or thing; or the outcomes. If you live true to yourself every day, then you are a Man.

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