Poetry Summer Week Three

It’s week three of #SummerPoetry. This week’s poem is 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!

I’ve always wanted to memorize this poem, mostly because I have five sons. But as I memorized it, I realized there are several good bits for writers in there.

If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;

Early in my writing career, I met with triumph. I had several teachers–and of course my mother–who said I had a “talent” at writing. I started to believe that I was a born writer. I started to believe I’d have an easy road in my writing career. Work? That was for people who didn’t have talent. And I had talent.

And then of course, I met with disaster. I realized that my writing wasn’t anywhere near where it needed to be if I wanted success. I needed to work at my writing–to master the craft.

I should have met  both triumph and disaster the same. I was/am a writer with strengths and weaknesses. It doesn’t really matter what others say about me, good or bad. I’m the same writer at the end of the day.

And then of course there are these lines:

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 want to be a writer, the first ten years will be spent watching the “things” you gave so much time to broken. A good critique group will tear them down, not because they are cruel, but because your work will not be good. A successful writer is the one who can bear to watch their work torn apart, and then stoop, and start again with wornout tools.

It should be noted that the “wornout tools” bit especially applies to those who are still using Word Perfect.

I’ve got some ideas for a few other poems to memorize, but if any of you have a favorite, I’m open to suggestions.

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3 Responses to Poetry Summer Week Three

  1. Krista says:

    This is such a great poem. And long. I still need to post mine. Thanks for the reminder!

  2. Juliet says:

    Hi Marion,

    Here is a poem Bleezer's Ice Cream by Jack Prelutsky.

    Natalie Merchant took poems from the turn of the century and made an album of them called Leave Your Sleep.

    That is where I found this one.

    Juliet

  3. Robin Weeks says:

    Hey, cool! I did this poem for week 3, too! (Of course, MY week 3 was last week….) :D

    You break it down for writers better than I did, though. :)

    I found it to be rather easy to memorize, possibly because I love giving advice. :P

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