Nursery Rhymes #3

Continuing my perusal of the book Roy Williamson loaned to me, entitled ‘Poetry for Children’ I was, to some degree,  surprised to see that it featured Rudyard Kipling’s poem, ‘IF’. It never occurred to me that this was a poem for children.

For those who do not recall the poem from their youth, I have included it below.

The reason for doing so is to enable anyone interested, to revisit the poem and then consider the significant opposition to Kipling, and this poem, in particular, arising from various Student Unions in recent times.

At the end of the poem, I have repeated the observations from Manchester University Students Union indicating the current view, among some, of Kipling and of a particular period of British history.

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 impostors 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 breathe 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!

It appears that Rudyard Kipling has fallen out of favour with today’s generation of students after it emerged that his “IF” poem has been scrubbed off a building by students in Manchester University, who claim he was a “racist”.

The liberation and access officer at Manchester’s students’ union declared “We believe that Kipling stands for the opposite of liberation, empowerment, and human rights – the things that we, as a Students Union, stand for. Kipling was the author of a plethora of works that sought to legitimate the British Empire’s presence in India and de-humanise people of colour, it is deeply inappropriate to promote the work of Kipling in our SU, which is named after prominent South African anti-Apartheid activist, Steve Biko.” The SU’s officer said.

It is my view that there is a chasm growing between people of my generation, born during, or just after, WWII, and present-day students. We, our parents and families, had our youth shaped by the wars and their aftermath, and in particular the way in which the British Commonwealth, willingly, rallied together to withstand what we saw as oppression

Modern students have a different view of the historical significance of the role, not all of which was free from criticism, that Great Britain played in the countries of the British Empire (subsequently the Commonwealth), and would seem to feel no allegiance to the Commonwealth as a result.

As to Kipling. I have no view as to whether the Manchester SU’s view of Kipling’s role in history is right, wrong, or merely politically correct. However, I am absolutely certain that his poem ‘IF’ is not an example of the negative constructs which they attribute to him, indeed quite the opposite.  I would suggest that IF is the response that Kipling would have made to their criticism.

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;

John Keegan

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