Manvotional: “If” by Rudyard Kipling

by Brett & Kate McKay on September 6, 2008 · 26 comments

in A Man's Life, Manvotionals

Editor’s Note: Great men before us have penned poems, letters, and essays on what it means to be a man. We want to share with you some of these writings each Sunday in a series called Manvotionals. Each Sunday, we’ll post a short poem, essay, or letter that inspires men to be better men. We’ll look at writings from great men like Shakespeare, Aristotle, and Churchill to see what they said about being men of virtue, honor, and valor. So each week we invite you to grab a mug of coffee, pull up a chair, and immerse yourself in the lost art of manliness.

How do you know when you become a man? Is it when you win your first fight? When you get married? Have kids? “If,” written by manly writer Rudyard Kipling, is an amazingly insightful poem on the attributes of what makes a man a man. Becoming a man isn’t just one event, but rather a series of attributes developed over a lifetime. If only more men desired to obtain these characteristics, the world would be a much better place.


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 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!

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Chris September 7, 2008 at 4:54 am


Excellent post. This poem really says it all about what it means to be a man. Love the blog, keep up the great work!

2 Damian September 7, 2008 at 5:01 am

That’s one of the most inspiring poems out there. Both it and Desiderata make the perfect guide to become a better person, no matter age, sex, or nationality of the reader.

Kipling’s “If” holds a special deep meaning to me, because it really describes a lot of the qualities that make my dad a great man.

Hope everyone else likes it as well.

3 Maikl September 7, 2008 at 5:14 am

Great post and great idea indeed.

4 Ryan September 7, 2008 at 6:25 am

This is great idea.
I love the site.

5 Nate September 7, 2008 at 6:58 am

That is definitely getting printed out and hung up. Awesome poem. Man, I love this site!

6 phil September 7, 2008 at 8:58 am

fantastic idea and a superb opening article for it. Kipling has eloquently summed up what it means to be a true man, a very difficult ideal which we should all strive for.

Another inspiring article, keep up the great work

@ damien
I ckecked out ‘desiderata’ based on your comment. Another brilliant poem and guide to becoming a better person. It reminded me, along with ‘if’, of the really important things in life which are all too easy to lose sight of. Thanks

7 Matt Savage September 7, 2008 at 10:21 am

“Rudyard Kipling was a 4:30 miler.”

-Quentin Cassidy

8 Don September 7, 2008 at 1:44 pm

I was at a company event back in late 2006 and the guy who heads up my division had just taken up the post. He used this as part of his introductory “pitch”. I hadn’t heard it before, later asked him what it was, immediately got a copy and posted it on my pin board. My son’s 9, a bit early to see the value in that but it’ll be there for him.

I too, enjoy the blog, keep it up.

9 josh September 7, 2008 at 1:58 pm

great post and concept. i suggest people take a look at this article penned by henry rollins for details magazine a few years back

10 C. September 7, 2008 at 4:44 pm

Awesome in so many ways. Keep up the great posts.

11 Alec Satin September 7, 2008 at 5:10 pm

This poem was a major source of comfort and encouragement to me when I was in my 20′s (20 years ago).

Reading it again today was like coming across a long lost friend.

Thanks for posting!

12 bahgheera September 7, 2008 at 6:00 pm

Nice post, I’m printing this and hanging it on my board at work Monday morning.

And awesome article from Rollins there, Josh. Gotta admit, Henry is pretty freakin’ manly there, eh? ;)

13 Granata September 8, 2008 at 9:30 am

Wow. Both the poem and that Rollins piece linked to above were intense.

14 Matt September 8, 2008 at 12:14 pm

My favorite poem ever – in fact, it’s the only one for me really.

15 Jesvin September 8, 2008 at 9:42 pm

A brilliant piece that inspired me was ‘Abraham Lincoln’s letter to his son’s teacher’ which everyone should read.

I am looking forward to more Manvotional posts.

16 Jeremy September 13, 2008 at 11:42 pm

My father has this poem engraved on a wooden plaque, I remember reading it so many times as a kid, and I remember how as I grew older I began to understand it more and more. If more boys were taught these lessons growing up the world would be a much better place.

17 Stephen Drummond September 17, 2008 at 5:59 pm

This has long been one of my favorite poems. As an Assistant Scoutmaster, I give framed copies to all of my new Eagle Scouts. It helps them to live up to their oaths of service.

18 laddiebuck November 1, 2008 at 10:52 pm

Don’t skip the blog, practical skills are great. But if want a constant guide inside your very own head, memorise this poem. You may think that’s hard (so man up already!) but if you are really interested in it and feel the impact of it, you will. I memorised it when I was 17 or 18 after just a few readings, and I’ve not forgotten a line since. You won’t really understand much of it until you’ve actually applied the verses in a situation where they are called for, but at least you will be prepared; you will know what the right course to take is.

19 Bruce W. Nickerson December 22, 2008 at 12:49 pm

When I adopted my second son (at the age of 21) we had a celebration at Trinity Church in San Francisco, The rector permitted me to re-write the formal Episcopal adoption ceremony since it deals with infant adoption and there is no role for an adult child. As part of the service my son and I recited this poem, alternately speaking each phrase. Fifteen years later, it still inspires both of us.

20 Shaya Shamszadeh January 10, 2009 at 10:22 pm

Thank you for the post,
I studied in a British Boarding School, “Christ’s College” and we had to memorize and sing it every week at the chapel.
It has become so much a part of me that all I do and all decisions I make somehow relates to it.
Thank you

21 JH Park February 7, 2009 at 9:40 am

A beautiful and matured poem! It reminds me of many things.
Accidentally, I am reading Kipling’s Kim accompanied with the introduction of
Edward Said. With his introduction, this poem tells me what I did not know about
him and his works.
Thanks for a good poem!

22 Dirk March 30, 2009 at 1:36 am

As a Vet, It was this one that helped me.

The ‘eathen
By Rudyard Kipling
Born 1865

The ‘eathen in ‘is blindness bows down to wood an’ stone;
‘E don’t obey no orders unless they is ‘is own;
‘E keeps ‘is side-arms awful: ‘e leaves ‘em all about,
An’ then comes up the regiment an’ pokes the ‘eathen out.

All along o’ dirtiness, all along o’ mess,
All along o’ doin’ things rather-more-or-less,
All along of abby-nay, kul, an’ hazar-ho, *
Mind you keep your rifle an’ yourself jus’ so!

* abby-nay: Not now. kul: To-morrow. hazar-ho: Wait a bit.

The young recruit is ‘aughty — ‘e draf’s from Gawd knows where;
They bid ‘im show ‘is stockin’s an’ lay ‘is mattress square;
‘E calls it bloomin’ nonsense — ‘e doesn’t know no more —
An’ then up comes ‘is Company an’ kicks ‘im round the floor!

The young recruit is ‘ammered — ‘e takes it very ‘ard;
‘E ‘angs ‘is ‘ead an’ mutters — ‘e sulks about the yard;
‘E talks o’ “cruel tyrants” ‘e’ll swing for by-an’-by,
An’ the others ‘ears an’ mocks ‘im, an’ the boy goes orf to cry.

The young recruit is silly — ‘e thinks o’ suicide;
‘E’s lost ‘is gutter-devil; ‘e ‘asn’t got ‘is pride;
But day by day they kicks ‘im, which ‘elps ‘im on a bit,
Till ‘e finds ‘isself one mornin’ with a full an’ proper kit.

Gettin’ clear o’ dirtiness, gettin’ done with mess,
Gettin’ shut o’ doin’ things rather-more-or-less;
Not so fond of abby-nay, kul, nor hazar-ho,
Learns to keep ‘is rifle an’ ‘isself jus’ so!

The young recruit is ‘appy — ‘e throws a chest to suit;
You see ‘im grow mustaches; you ‘ear ‘im slap ‘is boot;
‘E learns to drop the “bloodies” from every word ‘e slings,
An’ ‘e shows an ‘ealthy brisket when ‘e strips for bars an’ rings.

The cruel-tyrant-sergeants they watch ‘im ‘arf a year;
They watch ‘im with ‘is comrades, they watch ‘im with ‘is beer;
They watch ‘im with the women at the regimental dance,
And the cruel-tyrant-sergeants send ‘is name along for “Lance”.

An’ now ‘e’s ‘arf o’ nothin’, an’ all a private yet,
‘Is room they up an’ rags ‘im to see what they will get;
They rags ‘im low an’ cunnin’, each dirty trick they can,
But ‘e learns to sweat ‘is temper an’ ‘e learns to sweat ‘is man.

An’, last, a Colour-Sergeant, as such to be obeyed,
‘E schools ‘is men at cricket, ‘e tells ‘em on parade;
They sees ‘em quick an’ ‘andy, uncommon set an’ smart,
An’ so ‘e talks to orficers which ‘ave the Core at ‘eart.

‘E learns to do ‘is watchin’ without it showin’ plain;
‘E learns to save a dummy, an’ shove ‘im straight again;
‘E learns to check a ranker that’s buyin’ leave to shirk;
An’ ‘e learns to make men like ‘im so they’ll learn to like their work.

An’ when it comes to marchin’ he’ll see their socks are right,
An’ when it comes to action ‘e shows ‘em ‘ow to sight;
‘E knows their ways of thinkin’ and just what’s in their mind;
‘E knows when they are takin’ on an’ when they’ve fell be’ind.

‘E knows each talkin’ corpril that leads a squad astray;
‘E feels ‘is innards ‘eavin’, ‘is bowels givin’ way;
‘E sees the blue-white faces all tryin’ ‘ard to grin,
An’ ‘e stands an’ waits an’ suffers till it’s time to cap ‘em in.

An’ now the hugly bullets come peckin’ through the dust,
An’ no one wants to face ‘em, but every beggar must;
So, like a man in irons which isn’t glad to go,
They moves ‘em off by companies uncommon stiff an’ slow.

Of all ‘is five years’ schoolin’ they don’t remember much
Excep’ the not retreatin’, the step an’ keepin’ touch.
It looks like teachin’ wasted when they duck an’ spread an’ ‘op,
But if ‘e ‘adn’t learned ‘em they’d be all about the shop!

An’ now it’s “‘Oo goes backward?” an’ now it’s “‘Oo comes on?”
And now it’s “Get the doolies,” an’ now the captain’s gone;
An’ now it’s bloody murder, but all the while they ‘ear
‘Is voice, the same as barrick drill, a-shepherdin’ the rear.

‘E’s just as sick as they are, ‘is ‘eart is like to split,
But ‘e works ‘em, works ‘em, works ‘em till he feels ‘em take the bit;
The rest is ‘oldin’ steady till the watchful bugles play,
An’ ‘e lifts ‘em, lifts ‘em, lifts ‘em through the charge that wins the day!

The ‘eathen in ‘is blindness bows down to wood an’ stone;
‘E don’t obey no orders unless they is ‘is own;
The ‘eathen in ‘is blindness must end where ‘e began,
But the backbone of the Army is the non-commissioned man!

Keep away from dirtiness — keep away from mess.
Don’t get into doin’ things rather-more-or-less!
Let’s ha’ done with abby-nay, kul, an’ hazar-ho;
Mind you keep your rifle an’ yourself jus’ so!

23 Jennifer July 12, 2009 at 3:53 pm

I’m a single mom with a desire to raise my now 10-yr old boy to have integrity and be worthy of respect. I’ve been reading him this poem since he was about 6 and, maybe I’m giving good ol’ Rudyard too much credit but I am constantly being told by others that my “little man” is already a great man. I’m so proud of who he is and just wanted to say that in the world we live in today this website, which hones in on the true meaning of being a man, is a treasure!

24 Nico August 5, 2010 at 9:00 pm

Does anyone remember that Kipling was also an ardent racist and imperialist? Ever heard of “The White Man’s Burden”? One of his lesser known (read: most ignored) works. He talks about educating “Your new-caught, sullen peoples,//Half-devil and half-child”. Kipling might have been a gifted writer, but Hitler was a gifted orator.

25 sanchez January 13, 2013 at 1:21 pm

here here – Info, but this is a bluddy good poem

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