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Poetry Corner | “If” by Rudyard Kipling

Ah, the New Year: expectations, lists, resolutions, fresh starts – the cliches could unspool into a lengthy litany if you let it. Now, don’t get me wrong: I have my own lofty goals scribbled in my journal to promptly forget and revisit come spring, but my priority is to slow down. To breathe. Enjoy. And, of course, clean out the closets.

Zazen Cat In Meditation pic

For the first poem of the year, I chose a well-worn gem that has consoled and sustained broken souls like Bill Cosby, who turned to it again and again after the senseless death of his son. It has been called “Britain’s Favorite Poem” and, for me personally, is a reminder that kindness matters: when we are in pain, it can be easy to lash out and be nasty to everyone around us, especially if those people are happy. It takes a stronger person to suppress that, and this poem feels like a touchstone, a worn talisman in my pocket I can turn to and read, return to, and remind myself that everyone is fighting their own battle, and I must be kind.

I hope you enjoy “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 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 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!
Creative Commons License Zazen Cat In Meditation by Jamiecat is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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About Tomi Wiley (38 Articles)
Tomi L. Wiley is the Poetry and Short Fiction Editor for Sweatpants & Coffee.com. She has written and edited for media including Southern Living and Oxford American magazines, has been published in the literary anthologies Milk & Ink: a Mosaic of Motherhood, Telling Tales, Maypop and the Southeast Review, has coordinated panels for the Southern Festival of Books, spoken on the creative writing process at Middle Tennessee State University and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and is a past president of the Tennessee Writers Alliance. She lives in Knoxville, where she is writing her first novel with the help of lots of wine, goat cheese and the Barefoot Contessa.

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