If by Rudyard 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;
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 imposters 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 wornout 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 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!

Rudyard Kipling

My mom gave me a framed version of this poem on my 16th birthday. I wasn’t a man then, so I didn’t really understand it. Later, when I thought I understood it, I disagreed with it on all points. It sat in the closet in my old room until I turned 30, at which time my mom gave it to me again. I flipped it over and on the back was the note she’d written my for my 16th birthday, the note she’d written for my 30th, and the handwritten poem my Grandma wrote for me on my 16th. Reading “If” at 30 is yet again a different experience. Now I feel like I understand it; now I strive for these listed virtues.

Now it hangs in my son’s room, and I hope as he grows that he will feel the same ways I’ve felt about it over the years.