“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs….”
So begins Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If.”
Kipling, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1907, has not much favor nowadays – largely for his political and social views.
He was convinced that, in the over-arching scheme of things, the British Empire was, all in all, a force for good in the world.
He was on the wrong side of history when it came to woman suffrage. And it seems fair to say that he would have scoffed at the notion that traditional masculine virtues can be relegated as, well, traditional -- rather than as proofs of character good for men, and to the resultant benefit of women and children, in all times and in all weathers.
Kipling lived for two years in America – in Vermont. He had married an American woman. Two of his three children were born here. In Vermont he wrote “The Jungle Book,” and while in New England he gained the knowledge and inspiration to write “Captains Courageous.”
He died in 1936. Over the years, movie makers have found rich veins of cinematic raw material in his works. Besides “The Jungle Book” (twice) and “Captains Courageous,” such mainstream films as “Wee Willie Winkie,” “Gunga Din,” and “The Man Who Would Be King” come to mind.
But it seems few among the general reading public actually open and read his works anymore.
With the exception of his poem “If.”
Despite its masculine bent, the poem remains universal in its appeal. You likely have encountered it, whether you recognized its author or not, at one time or another. The poem just doesn’t go away.
It is in the public domain and easily found on the internet. On You Tube, you can watch it read, in a low-key manner, by the actor Sir Michael Caine.
Or you can see it performed, in a revved-up version, by tennis-star Serena Williams. Williams, by the way, each time she has entered the tunnel to Wimbledon’s Centre Court could see in the overhead this line from the poem: “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two imposters just the same….”
The poem is worth visiting or revisiting for many reasons, among them I recommend this:
Our nation’s politics reached a tipping point in 2016 and we continue in the midst of political convulsions not likely to end any time soon. There is a lot of finger-pointing and blame-casting going around.
Kipling’s poem is a good gage to measure both our personal conduct and that of those who aspire to lead us.
And here I will couple Kipling with Shakespeare (I feel Kipling would not mind, though I’m not so sure about Shakespeare) and ask you to ask yourself how much of what you expect to see in the next few years on the national stage will prove more than strutting and fretting resulting in “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
I will hazard a guess that, on the local level, and contrary to the kool-aid that at least several national news-and-opinion sources want us to drink, most of us do not have it personally so bad.
Maybe it remains important to keep calm and do things like:
Enjoy your children’s sporting and musical events.
Continue to make your word your bond.
Find a reason to vote in odd-year elections.
Pay your bills, including your taxes, on time.
Drive like the other person has a right to the road too.
Decrease the toxicity of your environmental footprint.
Keep your house painted and your lawn mown. (Or your walk shoveled.)
Remember that a place does not have to be far away to be worth going to. The Peninsula and Niagara Falls are nearby – and yet many of the kids you see on local streets do not have the means to visit them.
Live as though generations yet to come will want to live and enjoy their time upon this earth too.
Remember that when we look at the stars in the night sky some of those pinpricks of light began the journey to our retinae eons ago when our ancestors knew no better than to live in caves with rocks as tools.
“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 to build them up with worn-out tools….
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, what is more, you’ll be a Man, my son.”