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Language

Poets use language to make the presentation of the poem more interesting. They use language to engage the readers’ senses and imagination. Poets use different styles to express their ideas, feelings, and experiences.

Style refers to the unique features of a piece of poem which differs from other poems. Poets use a particular style which allows them to get the readers to be interested and appreciate their poems. In “IF” the poet makes use of similar numbers of lines in each stanza to express meanings to the audience or the readers. The lines are arranged in a particular way to create effect, and the choice of words shows that the poet is focused on engaging the audience to interact with the poem.

The poet uses the “you” form, which makes the poem personal and specific. The poet uses ‘you’ to address the person who is listening to the advice. The persona is giving advice to his son on what to do and not to do in life, in order to be a good and noble person.

A unique feature of this poem is the use of the words “If”, “Or” and “And”. Most of the lines of the poem start with “If”, “Or” and “And”.  Another distinct feature of the poem is the use of capital letters or the upper case for the beginning of four words. These words are “Triumph”, “Disaster”, “Will”, “King” and “Man”.  The use of pronouns is also present such as ‘you’, ‘their’, ‘them’ and ‘it’.

The word ‘can’ is used throughout the poem to indicate positive attitude and optimism. The word ‘can’ shows the ability to make something come true.  The word “If” on the other hand, shows possibility. The persona is saying that everything is in your hand.

Let’s look at the stanzas to see how the poet uses words to create the mood, and put across ideas, reflections, and feelings through the persona. These are presented by the persona in a form of an advice to the son.  In this poem, the poet uses eight lines in all the stanzas. There are thirty-two lines in the whole poem. The poet uses a particular format to rhyme the poem at the end of the lines (a, b, a, b).  The end-word of the first four lines of stanza one rhymes in the, a, a, a format.  In fact, the arrangement of the poem is also consistent throughout the poem.

A great feature of this poem is the rhyme scheme. The rhyme scheme and its effects are clear in the poem:
you-you, you-too, waiting-hating, lies-wise (stanza one)
master- Disaster, aim-same, spoken-broken, fools-tools (stanza two)
winnings-beginning, toss-loss, sinew-you, gone-on (stanza three)
virtue-you, touch-much, minute-it, run-son (stanza four)

The poem provides a form of harmony in its rhyme scheme and shows a unity. The poet creates a sense of unity and strength to generate motivation, aspiration and harmony throughout the poem.

Stanza One
The persona tells his son that it is important to be rational in facing any situations. One should be sensible and not lose one’s mind. The persona advises the son to trust himself even if others do not trust him. The persona wants his son to be patient and not to tell lies. He also advises him to be moderate in life by appearing simple and not to be boastful. 
 
In stanza one, the poet uses the phrases ‘keeping your head’ and ‘losing their and blaming’ to show the contrast (keeping-losing). The word ‘keeping’ is on a positive note while the word ‘losing’ is on a negative note.  Similarly, words that work in the opposite are: trust –doubt, wait- tired by waiting.

The persona uses the phrases ‘don’t deal in lies’, ‘don’t give way to hating’, and ‘don’t look too good, nor talk wise’ to advise the son to keep way from these negative habits. 

Stanza Two
In stanza two, the persona tells the son not to be a dreamer and be controlled by dreams. He tells his son that life is about both success and failure, so he advises his son to treat them equally. He explains that there are bound to be people who twist and turn truth into lies. It is important that he is prepared to pick up the pieces and rebuild life from scratch.

In stanza two, the poet uses the word ‘Triumph’ and ‘Disaster’ to show contrast. The poet uses the phrases ‘bear to hear the truth’, ‘twisted by knaves’, ‘things you gave your life to, broken’ to show that life is not a bed of roses. There are people who would trick others and cause one’s downfall. 

Stanza Three

In stanza three, the persona tells his son to take risks in life without any fear. He wishes his son to be confident and brave, and not be a sour loser. If the son fails or loses he wants him to pick up the pieces and to rebuild life from scratch. He does not want his son to complain about his loss. He advises his son never to give up and to face the challenges to the best of his will. He wants the son to have will power.
In stanza three, the poet uses the phrases ‘one heap of all your winning’ to show wealth. The poet uses ‘never breathe a word’ to mean complain. The word “Will” is used to mean will power. The last four lines of stanza three show that the will to go against all odds is most important.

Stanza Four
In the fourth stanza, the persona advises the son to be fair to everyone. Both the royalties and commoners should be accorded the same treatment. He wants his son to hold strongly to virtues. He wants his son to live a peaceful and harmonious life where no one wishes to hurt him. He advises his son to value time preciously and use it wisely. The persona concludes that his son will be a Man. 

In stanza four, the poet uses ‘talk with crowds’ and ‘keep your virtues’ to show that it is important to socialise and uphold virtues or practise good behaviours. The poet also uses ‘walk with Kings’ and ‘nor lose the common touch’ to show the royalties and the ordinary people or the subjects. Both these words mean the opposite. The poet uses ‘unforgiving minute’ to personify time. Time is merciless and waits for no one. 

Imagery
In “IF” the poet uses the following words and phrases. The poet also uses imagery (words, phrases or expressions) which works on our senses. Our senses are engaged through the use of particular imagery and we, as the readers feel the experiences, as if we too are part of the experiences or events. We also feel the emotions or moods of the persona, as we read the poems.

 Imagery Words and phrases
Sense of hearing  ‘blaming’ ‘talk’ ‘hear the truth’ ‘spoken’ 
 ‘breathe a word’ ‘talk with crowds’
Sense of touch ‘worn-out tools’ ‘touch’
Sense of sight  ‘tools’ ‘crowds’ ‘Kings’ ‘friends’ ‘Earth’

Personification
The poet makes some of the elements behave like a person. The poet has personified dreams, Triumphs and Disasters, Will, and minute.

The persona states that dreams can become a master which controls a person. The persona hopes his son would not let dreams control him.

The persona describes triumphs and disasters to be imposters. Both triumphs and disasters mark the rise and fall of a person. The persona hopes his son would treat or accept both triumphs and disasters equally.

Will is seen as a person who determines that one succeeds or triumphs in life. Will motivates the person to move on with life and to secure victories. The persona hopes that his son would be successful with the force of the inner drive in him.
 
Minute represents time and is expressed as ‘unforgiving’. Time is precious. The persona states that each minute that passes is valuable, so it is best to make the best use of time.

The poet also uses imagery (words, phrases and lines) which shows the contrast between positive and negative aspects. These are values and conducts that the persona approves and disapproves. He wishes his son to pick up the positive values or good behaviours.

 Positive

 Negative

Stanza One

- keep your head
- trust yourself
- make allowance for their doubting too can wait
- don’t deal in lies
- don’t give way to hating
- don’t look too good, nor talk too wise


Stanza Two

- can dream
- can think
- Triumph
- hear the truth you’ve spoken
- things you gave your life to
- stoop and build ‘em up



Stanza Three

- make one heap of your winning
- start again at your beginnings
- And never breathe a word about your loss
- hold on when there in nothing in you
- Will which says to the “Hold on!”


Stanza Four

- talk with crowds
- keep your virtue
- walk with Kings
- nor lose the common touch
- neither foes or loving friends can hurt you
- all men can count with you 
- fill the unforgiving minute
- yours is the  Earth and everything that’s in it                
- you’ll be a Man



- losing their, blaming it on you
- doubt you
- tired by waiting
- being lied about
- being hated

 




- not make dreams your master
- not make thoughts your aim
- Disaster
- Twisted by knaves
- broken
- with worn-out tools 





- risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss and loss








- but none too much









The poet uses words to show actions or behaviours. They are used to convey meanings to the readers. 

Action-words or verbs 

  keep
  losing
  blaming
  make
  wait
  tired
  waiting
  lied
  deal
  hated
  give
  hiding
  dream
  think
  treat
  bear
  hear
  spoken
  twisted
  watch
  gave
  risk
  lose
  start
  breathe
  force
  serve
  gone
  hold
  says
  talk
  keep
  walk
  hurt
  count
  fill


Symbol
In literature, symbols relate to the use of objects, animals or human experiences or socio-cultural aspects to mean something. The eagle is often seen as a symbol of freedom and strength. Red symbolises danger. Green would mainly refer to the environment.  In the poem ‘IF’ the symbols are:

The word “Kings” symbolises the upper class of society, the rulers or aristocrats. These people are royalties who are wealthy and influential. On the other hand, “common touch” symbolise the ordinary people or subject in a particular society.

The word “Triumph” symbolises success or victory, while “Disaster” symbolises failure or downfall.

“Earth” symbolises material wealth. It also symbolises the richness of knowledge, experiences, reflections, thoughts and perspectives.

 
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