On “If” by Rudyard Kipling and “Kipling” by Carol Ann Duffy
The doctrines of idealism and optimism are demonstrated in the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling. “If” advises the reader to achieve qualities and reach for perfection. “If” is answered in the book, Answering Back by Carol Ann Duffy’s poem, “Kipling”. Duffy’s response to “If” is appallingly contrasting in mood, diction, structure, and challenges Kipling’s ideals through example. “Kipling” is a narrative poem, telling the story of a gambler. “Kipling” is contrary to “If” in the sense that “Kipling” seems to oppose idealism and optimism and uses these doctrines as a response.
Kipling’s “If” entails the moral qualities that a “Man” in Kipling’s eyes, should have. “If” has an inherently didactic structure and intent, that is, “If” is written to teach moral values, implied by Kipling’s constant referral to a second party. Kipling describes each characteristic with a complex and detailed statement that a “Man” should achieve in order to exhibit said characteristic. Kipling creates paradox, advising to ignore doubt and yet allow it as well: “If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,/But make allowance for their doubting too;”.
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Kipling uses this complex paradoxical tone throughout the rest of “If” as to strengthen the characteristics a “Man” has. Also, the paradoxes in “If” serve to abolish the duality of good and bad within each trait, leaving only the good, and thus, Kipling describes an impossibly perfect person, or in the least, a person who most people are not. For example, the lines: “Or being lied about, but don’t deal in lies/ or being hated, but don’t give way to hating” reflect the traits of honesty and tolerance.
Occasionally brutality is associated with honesty, and often times it is difficult for individuals to be tolerant to brutal honesty. Kipling advises his “son” to be an almost godly figure, implied by the capitalization of the word “Man” in the final stanza that would possess extraordinary qualities. The first stanza advises many clashing pairs of qualities such as the aforementioned; honesty and tolerance and also, the entire stanza focuses on the quality of righteousness but at the same time Kipling advises to be not self-righteous in the line: “And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:”.
The second stanza, in its entirety advises pragmaticality, most notably in the lines: “If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;/If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;”. The third stanza advises perseverance especially when times are rough, as Kipling writes: “And lose, and start at your beginnings/And never breathe a word about your loss. ” Kipling ends on an uplifting note, with two final characteristics.
He advises “[not to] lose the common touch” or in other words, to foster a sense of equality and not to waste time but rather to seize the day. Finally, Kipling reinforces the godly quality of his idea of a “Man” through the line “Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,” Contrasting Kipling’s poem, “If”, Carol Ann Duffy answers with “Kipling”. Duffy’s poem is melancholic in description, as the character portrayed in the poem sells off valuable milestones, both in emotional value and material value, of his life.
The structure of the poem lends a hand in its overall gloomy and discouraged mood, in each line of the poem something of emotional value is sold off for a profit. The poem in its entirety is only one stanza and at first glance gives off the bleak look and shares some characteristics of a receipt. Buyers of the man’s valuables in “Kipling” enhance the overall sadness of the poem and the man as they are given little and insignificant adjectives such as the “melancholy man with a van” or the “little guy”.
Finally, the largest contributor to the mood of the poem is that many valuables such as an engagement ring, children’s toys, and a house that the man sells off are insignificantly referred to in a group as nothing but a “massive, huge heap”. Ordinarily, things such as these represent a life well-lived, yet it seems Duffy writes this poem to be the contrary. Mood differs appallingly between the poems “If” and “Kipling”. “If” advises inherently good qualities with an uplifting message with a clever rhyming scheme.
Generally, one would feel positive and hopeful after reading this poem. “If” is filled with good and kindly given advice such as: “And so hold on when there is nothing in you. ”; advising the reader to persevere. While on the contrary, “Kipling” provides a much more melancholic meaning told through the depressing story of a man who sells what seems to be all that is left of his life. Duffy’s use of enjambment, or in other words, broken sentences between lines of a poem, could possibly signify a broken life, giving off a more pessimistic mood.
On the other hand Kipling’s lines: “If you can fill the unforgiving minute/With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run” contrast and tells individuals to live life to the fullest value, giving off a more optimistic mood. Kipling’s “If” seems to beg the question ‘What if you can be it all? ’ and to that, Duffy responds: ‘What if you can’t? ’. “Kipling” ends with the man who has sold off all his valuables for a large profit and loses it all on gambling, more specifically, a horse race in which the man bids on a horse named “Kipling” and loses.
Duffy’s poem seems to make an example of most of the third stanza of “If”: “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”. Through this stanza, Duffy challenges Kipling’s idealism with realism. Conceivably, to “lose and start again at your beginnings”, according to Kipling, makes you become the more ideal “Man” but, the man in Duffy’s “Kipling” experiences this magnitude of loss and he does not become anything more. It seems that Duffy believes in a more realistic approach life.
In “If” “Man” is capitalized, signifying godly quality while all the men in “Kipling” are not given a proper name nor are they capitalized, signifying ordinariness and commonness. “Kipling” when compared to “If” exhibits a more realistic approach Duffy seems to be implying that perhaps not everyone can be a completely perfect “Man”. Qualities of perfection and the overall optimism of Kipling’s “If” are seemingly too extensive for Duffy as she clashes ideals through the telling of a story of a man who sold his life for there was nothing left of it.
Perhaps Duffy’s response is a caution, warning individuals that over-idealism can be a downfall. Though idealism and optimism give happiness to life, Duffy’s example of realism and pessimism caution the sadness an individual can experience. Perhaps Duffy’s response clashes Kipling’s idealism with realism because she may believe an individual requires a dual perspective in life so they can truly “never breathe a word about his loss”.