Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Group Writing: Do You Believe in ‘If’ Anymore?

 

One of the reasons I like the occasional music posts on Ricochet is that I’ve spent most of my life quite disconnected from whatever was going on in the contemporary entertainment world, and the posts give me a window into what I might have missed (and whether or not I’m glad I did). Although we moved to the United States only a couple of months before The Beatles took the “Ed Sullivan Show” by storm, I never owned a Beatles album. And while The Rolling Stones were hot during my years at British boarding school, we weren’t allowed to listen to them; Mick Jagger’s hips and lips being (in the opinion of the good ladies running The Abbey School) a bridge too far, even for the radio.

Prior to that, my experience ran to the blue wind-up gramophone in Nigeria and the 78, 45, and 33RPM records we’d either brought with us from England or borrowed from the Officers’ Club, and programs such as Desert Island Discs on the BBC World Service. After that, with a few notable exceptions when I would, in a transgressive mood, listen to Jeff Christie on KQV, the most youth-oriented local AM station (he later resumed his birth name and achieved some measure of fame as Rush Limbaugh), I left the music scene to others, and largely ignored it myself.

Thus, in the ’60s and ’70s, what did manage to seep into my musical gestalt was mostly the stuff my mother listened to or played on the gramophone–a world largely comprised of male crooners and peppy young women singing cheerful and upbeat songs. Almost all of them were British, and you’ve probably heard of them rarely, if at all. Men like Val Doonican. Matt Munro (best known for the title song of the movie Born Free), Des O’Connor, Frankie Vaughan. Women like Alma Cogan, Cilla Black Clodagh Rodgers, and Sandie Shaw. (Sometimes, when Mum was in a jazz sort of mood, Johnny Dankworth and Cleo Laine.)

And Roger Whittaker.

Roger Whittaker (b. 1936) was very popular in the UK for a decade or so starting in the mid-1960s. He had only one song which cracked the top 20 in the United States, “The Last Farewell,” in 1975. In addition to his pleasant baritone voice, he is a superb whistler, as you can hear in this live performance.

But, no doubt about it, his songs, together with their lush orchestrations and generous side-order of British colonial ex-pat sentimentalism, are pure old-lady bait, and he was much beloved by both my mother and grandmother. I’m quite familiar with his oeuvre, including this one that was a hit in the UK and Europe in 1970. It’s not my favorite, and I find the contrast between the staccato delivery of the verses and the lyrical refrain a bit jarring. (I expect he had his own reasons for not believing in “If,” as he’d spent a couple of years in the Kenya Regiment chasing the Mau Mau up and down the country’s Abedare mountains.) But favorite or not, it’s a perfect lead-in to the matter of this month’s Group Writing topic–which is “advice,” in case you’ve forgotten by now). Roger Whittaker, and I Don’t Believe in ‘If’ Anymore:

When it comes to poetry, I can’t think of a set of verses containing more advice per line than Rudyard Kipling’s If. It’s a simple poem, really nothing more than a series of hypothetical syllogisms (if A is true, then B is true), which depend, for their usefulness, on the validity of the premises and the logic of the conclusion given in response. And as that conclusion, which is proffered in the last two of the poem’s 32 lines makes clear, Kipling intended it as a rather exhaustive instruction manual on the art, or perhaps the science, of becoming a man:

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!

“My goodness!” I hear you saying. “You quoted the whole thing!”

Indeed, I did and there’s a reason for that. Because I’m interested to know what you think of Kipling’s advice, either in part, or as a whole. Is it a fairly complete prescription for manhood? (And/or womanhood — perhaps we could be inclusive here?) Or is it like The Curate’s Egg–only good in parts? Are there recommendations that you find particularly noteworthy? Ones you disagree with? Ones you’d like to add? Ones you’d leave out? Ones you’ve actually found yourself living, as you’ve gone through your life? Assuming you’re a fan, which do you find the easiest “If” to live up to? The hardest?

Is the advice Kipling offers us in “If” relevant in the 21st century, or is it hopelessly Victorian and outdated? (The poem was written in 1895, but not published until 1910.)

Do you believe in “If” anymore? Does the country? Does the world?

Published in Group Writing
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  1. Stad Thatcher

    She:

    Is the advice Kipling offers us in ‘If’ relevant in the twenty-first century, or is it hopelessly Victorian and outdated? (The poem was written in 1895, but not published until 1910.) 

    Do you believe in ‘If’ anymore? Does the country? Does the world?

    It’s a great poem, and I think the left would like it to vanish:

    She: If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools

    The problem is I cannot bear to see the left twist truths into lies.

    • #1
    • February 10, 2020, at 1:22 PM PST
    • 9 likes
  2. She Reagan
    SheJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Stad (View Comment):

    She:

    Is the advice Kipling offers us in ‘If’ relevant in the twenty-first century, or is it hopelessly Victorian and outdated? (The poem was written in 1895, but not published until 1910.)

    Do you believe in ‘If’ anymore? Does the country? Does the world?

    It’s a great poem, and I think the left would like it to vanish:

    She: If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools

    The problem is I cannot bear to see the left twist truths into lies.

    That’s the hardest one for me, even more so at a personal level than at a political one.

    • #2
    • February 10, 2020, at 1:34 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  3. Seawriter Contributor

    Don’t know if anyone else does, and don’t care. But I believe in that poem still.

    • #3
    • February 10, 2020, at 1:48 PM PST
    • 14 likes
  4. RightAngles Member

    I memorized this poem when I was 12. Every word still reverberates for me.

    • #4
    • February 10, 2020, at 1:54 PM PST
    • 9 likes
  5. She Reagan
    SheJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I always thought “If” it was Dad’s favorite poem, and we printed it on the back of the little program we made up for his his funeral service. And he lived many, many of the traits Kipling mentioned. But after he died, when I was going through his things, I found a little 4×6 index card onto which he had typed another Kipling poem, Great-Heart, which Kipling wrote in 1922, in honor of Theodore Roosevelt. It has so many of the same themes as “If,” as can be seen in this verse:

    Plain speech with plain folk,
    And plain words for false things,
    Plain faith in plain dealing
    ‘Twixt neighbours or kings,
    He used and he followed,
    However it sped. . . .
    Oh, our world is none more honest
    Now Great-Heart is dead!

    “If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue/And walk with kings–nor lose the common touch.”

    I think Kipling must have seen in TR many of the manifestations of manliness that he describes in “If.” And I’ve always been sorry I didn’t find the index card before Dad died, otherwise, I’d have put Great-Heart somewhere in the program too!

    • #5
    • February 10, 2020, at 2:11 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  6. DonWatt Coolidge

    I can’t help but wonder if Kipling himself still believed in “If” after the death of his son in WWI as dramatized in the stage play and teleplay “My Boy Jack”. Kipling pulled the strings he could to get a commission for Jack and spent years afterward trying to learn the facts of his death. I haven’t read much Kipling lately, but the early colonial ebullience shades to a darker, melancholic place after the war.

    On a lighter note, I think Matt Munro might be even better known for the Bond track “From Russia With Love”, the title song of the best early Bond flick.

    Brother Brian introduced us to Cleo Laine in the late 1970s and we actually saw her at the old Circle Star Theatre in San Carlos, CA. Fabulous stylist, astonishing range.

    • #6
    • February 10, 2020, at 2:16 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  7. Clifford A. Brown Contributor

    This conversation is part of our Group Writing Series under the February 2020 Group Writing Theme: “Advice.” Stop by soon, our schedule and sign-up sheet awaits.

    Interested in Group Writing topics that came before? See the handy compendium of monthly themes. Check out links in the Group Writing Group. You can also join the group to get a notification when a new monthly theme is posted.

    • #7
    • February 10, 2020, at 2:20 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  8. Percival Thatcher
    PercivalJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    My second favorite Kipling poem, just behind “The Gods of the Copybook Headings.” It is still relevant. It is still the game plan for success. You’ll be called for your “toxic masculinity” by people who may one day rely on those qualities once again.

    • #8
    • February 10, 2020, at 2:24 PM PST
    • 8 likes
  9. She Reagan
    SheJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Donwatt (View Comment):

    I can’t help but wonder if Kipling himself still believed in “If” after the death of his son in WWI as dramatized in the stage play and teleplay “My Boy Jack”. Kipling pulled the strings he could to get a commission for Jack and spent years afterward trying to learn the facts of his death. I haven’t read much Kipling lately, but the early colonial ebullience shades to a darker, melancholic place after the war.

    Agree. I think that was a life-changing event for him.

    On a lighter note, I think Matt Munro might be even better known for the Bond track “From Russia With Love”, the title song of the best early Bond flick.

    You could be right–I didn’t really follow the Bond films. Lions on the Serengeti, however . . .

    Brother Brian introduced us to Cleo Laine in the late 1970s and actually saw her at the old Circle Star Theatre in San Carlos, CA. Fabulous stylist, astonishing range.

    Yes, extraordinary. Not my favorite sort of music, but an unmistakable sound. What a treat to have seen her in person.

     

    • #9
    • February 10, 2020, at 2:27 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  10. Jim Beck Member

    Evening She,

    This is a slight detour, did your family even listen to My Word or My Music on radio or TV or short wave? My wife is from Bicester, and those shows were our favorite, for us radio and short wave, programs. If you reall Dennis Norden could recite yards of poetry, and would often.

    • #10
    • February 10, 2020, at 2:28 PM PST
    • 1 like
  11. Percival Thatcher
    PercivalJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    A boatload of toxic masculinity about to spill out on a Normandy beach, 1944.

    • #11
    • February 10, 2020, at 2:29 PM PST
    • 7 likes
  12. She Reagan
    SheJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Jim Beck (View Comment):

    Evening She,

    This is a slight detour, did your family even listen to My Word or My Music on radio or TV or short wave? My wife is from Bicester, and those shows were our favorite, for us radio and short wave, programs. If you reall Dennis Norden could recite yards of poetry, and would often.

    I loved both those shows! Dennis Norden and “Fwank” Muir. And Ann Scott-James, or Dilys Powell, when we were listening. My favorite part was (I think it was) the last round of “My Word” where the panelists had to invent, on the spot, a story to explain the origin of a well-known phrase or quotation. They were always entertaining, and some of them were very funny.

    Oh, and yes. Shortwave. Lilibullero and all. The sound of home.

    • #12
    • February 10, 2020, at 2:44 PM PST
    • 1 like
  13. D.A. Venters Member

    It’s timeless. As long as human nature remains what it has always been, this advice will be relevant. Cultures will drift toward it or away from it from age to age, but it will always be true regardless of how popular it is. 

    • #13
    • February 10, 2020, at 3:06 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  14. RightAngles Member

    D.A. Venters (View Comment):

    It’s timeless. As long as human nature remains what it has always been, this advice will be relevant. Cultures will drift toward it or away from it from age to age, but it will always be true regardless of how popular it is.

    This poem was one of the (many) reasons I never fell under the sway of the feminists. Because I had it memorized as a child and it always affected me, I knew that the line “And which is more, you’ll be a man, my son” didn’t make me feel one bit excluded, not for a minute. I knew it applied to me even though I was a girl. I knew that the feminists’ strident complaining about too many things being only for men was a bunch of bushwah. And it always struck me as anti-intellectual, because I mean can they not see the universality in poetry and literature? Does everything have to be literal for them to get it?

    • #14
    • February 10, 2020, at 3:21 PM PST
    • 8 likes
  15. JoelB Member

    “If” could be a verbal portrait of Christ. It might not be canon, but in some sense it was certainly inspired.

    • #15
    • February 10, 2020, at 3:42 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  16. RightAngles Member

    Plain speech with plain folk,
    And plain words for false things

    Now let’s see, who does that remind me of?

    • #16
    • February 10, 2020, at 3:44 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  17. Al French of Damascus Moderator

    Percival (View Comment):

    A boatload of toxic masculinity about to spill out on a Normandy beach, 1944.

    I went out to lunch yesterday and one of diners there was a veteran of the Omaha Beach landing. He was wearing a “greatest generation” cap and was basking in adulation. It was great to see.

    • #17
    • February 10, 2020, at 3:56 PM PST
    • 9 likes
  18. She Reagan
    SheJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    RightAngles (View Comment):
    I knew that the line “And which is more, you’ll be a man, my son” didn’t make me feel one bit excluded, not for a minute. I knew it applied to me even though I was a girl. I knew that the feminists’ strident complaining about too many things being only for men was a bunch of bushwah.

    Yeah, I never fell for that nonsense, either. Probably why I own so many power tools . . . and so little lipstick . . .

    • #18
    • February 10, 2020, at 4:00 PM PST
    • 7 likes
  19. RightAngles Member

    Percival (View Comment):

    A boatload of toxic masculinity about to spill out on a Normandy beach, 1944.

    ………………

    But wait till Revisionist History takes hold:

    • #19
    • February 10, 2020, at 4:07 PM PST
    • 7 likes
  20. She Reagan
    SheJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    A boatload of toxic masculinity about to spill out on a Normandy beach, 1944.

    ………………

    But wait till Revisionist History takes hold:

    The Babylon Bee’s on it . . . https://babylonbee.com/news/cnn-criticizes-d-day-soldiers-for-lack-of-diversity It’s one of those things that’s almost impossible to parody, because it (their joke CNN story) could so easily be real).

    • #20
    • February 10, 2020, at 4:13 PM PST
    • 7 likes
  21. MichaelKennedy Coolidge

    Percival (View Comment):

    My second favorite Kipling poem, just behind “The Gods of the Copybook Headings.” It is still relevant. It is still the game plan for success. You’ll be called for your “toxic masculinity” by people who may one day rely on those qualities once again.

    I had a copy of “If” on my bedroom wall but, as an adult, I am more inclined toward “Gods of the Copybook headings

    http://www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/poems_copybook.htm

    On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
    (Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
    Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
    And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death.”

    In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
    By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
    But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
    And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”

    Even VI Lenin knew that.

    • #21
    • February 10, 2020, at 5:18 PM PST
    • 7 likes
  22. Arahant Member

    Percival (View Comment):
    A boatload of toxic masculinity about to spill out on a Normandy beach, 1944.

    And thank Cod for ’em.

    • #22
    • February 10, 2020, at 5:35 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  23. Percival Thatcher
    PercivalJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    MichaelKennedy (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    My second favorite Kipling poem, just behind “The Gods of the Copybook Headings.” It is still relevant. It is still the game plan for success. You’ll be called for your “toxic masculinity” by people who may one day rely on those qualities once again.

    I had a copy of “If” on my bedroom wall but, as an adult, I am more inclined toward “Gods of the Copybook headings

    http://www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/poems_copybook.htm

    On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
    (Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
    Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
    And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death.”

    In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
    By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
    But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
    And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”

    Even VI Lenin knew that.

    It moved up on the list as I noticed more and more of its verses coming to pass.

    As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
    There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
    That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
    And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

    And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
    When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
    As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
    The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

    • #23
    • February 10, 2020, at 5:43 PM PST
    • 10 likes
  24. Al French of Damascus Moderator

    @she, just to make you jealous, I note that I have the collected works of Kipling in 32 volumes (I think; I’m not at home and can’t check). I inherited from my grandmother through my mother.

    I promise I’ll dip into them more.

    • #24
    • February 10, 2020, at 5:49 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  25. She Reagan
    SheJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Al French (View Comment):
    Updates

    I am jealous!

    • #25
    • February 10, 2020, at 6:00 PM PST
    • 1 like
  26. DonWatt Coolidge

    She (View Comment):
    like

    Ah yes, Lillibullero.
    The family listened to the World Service on the shortwave in darkest California in the 70’s. If memory serves, PBS affiliate KALW, San Mateo, used to play the World Service from midnight to 0500 Cal time.
    But it doesn’t sound complete without the five pips and the longer tone marking the hour, preceding the tune. I could imagine the entire world checking their clocks, watches, and chronometers.

    • #26
    • February 10, 2020, at 6:18 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  27. She Reagan
    SheJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Donwatt (View Comment):
    But it doesn’t sound complete without the five pips and the longer tone marking the hour preceding the tune. I could imagine the entire world checking their clocks, watches, and chronometers.

    As for many years, I’m sure it did!

    • #27
    • February 10, 2020, at 6:24 PM PST
    • 1 like
  28. Steve C. Member

    He sounds like Robert Goulet.

    • #28
    • February 10, 2020, at 7:59 PM PST
    • 1 like
  29. James Gawron Thatcher
    James GawronJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    RightAngles (View Comment):
    Does everything have to be literal for them to get it?

    RA,

    Isn’t this what IF is all about. Who could possibly be all the things that Kipling describes? Isn’t Kipling’s poem a description of the absurd demands that a shallow inhumanly childish society makes on men (and women too). If so then Whittaker is the child because he took Kipling literally and never saw the irony. His need to reject Kipling shows that he still doesn’t get it. Kipling is telling his son that society will never be satisfied no matter how heroic you are. It is, therefore, more important that you are satisfied with yourself and thus not need the accolades of a fickle society. Then you’ll be a man my son.

    She: 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:

    To prepare yourself for life, expect the worst from others but don’t let yourself be pulled down to that level. You’ll make mistakes but only a fool believes in perfection. Accept your own failings and then rise to the occasion with all that you’ve got. Then you’ll be a man my son.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #29
    • February 10, 2020, at 8:51 PM PST
    • 7 likes
  30. JennaStocker Member

    Thank you for a wonderful post! I think our society would be greatly improved with a healthy dose of Kipling. It’s a tragedy he fell victim to the overwhelming force of PC culture and the ‘cancellation’ of the legacies of men who unapologetically encourage the virtues and boldness of independent thinking. Your ‘if’ questions were the perfect cap. Well done!

    • #30
    • February 10, 2020, at 8:53 PM PST
    • 4 likes