Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘If’ is full of figurative languages and other poetic devices. Below is a list of figures of speech and literary devices found in this poem —
Metaphors are implied comparison between two different things where there is a point of similarity.
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same
In the above lines, ‘triumph and disaster’ are compared to impostors. Success and failure both can deceive us, as we may become too happy or too sad and forget our duty. Moreover, triumph and disaster both are transitory — in most cases they don’t last long. Happiness comes after sorrow and vice-versa. But we are often deceived in thinking them to be permanent.
Personification is attributing human characteristics to non-human objects.
If you can dream — and not make dreams your master
In the above line, the poet urges us not to allow our ‘dreams‘ to act like our master and control us. Our dreams acting like a master is a personification of dream.
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
‘Triumph‘ and ‘disaster‘ are here attributed human characteristics and called ‘impostors’ or deceivers who can befool us.
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
‘Minute‘ or time is here personified by the term ‘unforgiving’. Time waits for none. The poet says, it does not ‘forgive’ those who waste their valuable time. Forgiving is a human quality attributed to ‘minute’ here.
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
‘Will‘ or human resolution is personified as it can encourage us not to give up.
It is the use of language in a way that something has a symbolic or deeper meaning other than the apparent one.
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
‘Pitch-and-toss‘ is a game. But here it is a symbol for big risks in life. The poet advises us to take bigger risks if it is for good reasons.
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch
In the above lines, ‘crowds‘ symbolizes the common people, ‘kings‘ symbolizes important persons and ‘common touch‘ refers to humbleness.
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
This line is not to be taken literally. Kipling means to say that if we possess those good qualities, we would find ourselves to be highly successful in life and winning the hearts of people. It would resemble winning the earth itself.
It is when we use parts of something to mean the whole or vice-versa.
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
‘heart and nerve and sinew‘ are parts to mean the whole body. The poet says, we have to force our body to keep working by the power of will, even after it has lost its vigour.
Anaphora is a rhetorical device that consists of repeating a sequence of words at the beginnings of neighboring clauses.
The poem ‘If-‘ is a collection of a number of ‘if clauses’ which start with ‘If you can…‘
Opposition, or contrast of ideas or words in a balanced or parallel construction.
Eg: if all men count with you, but none too much.
The repetition of the same vowel sounds in words close to each other.
Eg: And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise.
It says that triumph and disaster are two imposters. They can deceive people by pretending to be someone else thus leading to our downfall. The poet talks us to treat them the same, not to be happy about our triumph and ruin it, and not to be too sad about our disaster and give up completely.