If you can stand before the door of dreams
and watch it open, and then turn away
when they appear much smaller than they seemed,
or if there is a price too high to pay;
If you can put ambition on the shelf–
for money or for fame or worldly things–
and seek instead a different kind of wealth:
the joy of life returning in the spring;

If you can take an offer from your God
to ease your pain, to fill your broken heart
and turn it down, declaring it a fraud,
even as the tears of mourning start;
If you can hold your mind to only reason,
If you can seek the ordinary truth,
If you refuse faith’s simple, tempting treason,
and equally the trap of lies abstruse;

If you can face a life-or-death decision
and make it in the certainty of doubt;
if you can live with anger and division
while never letting either win a rout;
If you can learn and keep an awful secret,
the death of worlds so quiet in your mind;
If you resist the rantings of the zealot;
If you create a home that’s warm and kind;

If you can seek the beauty of the evening
without denying loveliness to dawn
and feel the depth of sadness that is grieving
while joyously recalling those now gone;
If you accept that life must end in dying
yet still give all you have within to give
these fleeting years will seem no longer flying:
then you will know all that it means to live.

I haven’t categorized this as a pastiche because it isn’t: it’s a variation on a theme. Kipling’s “If–“ may be the most popular modern English poem, but although Kipling was a modern poet, he still looked back to his brutal Victorian roots, and “If–“, with its stoic emotional repression, is one of his more deeply Victorian poems.

Me, I dunno what I am. I can hardly call myself “post-modern”, for reasons too complex to go into here.

So this is my variation on the theme of Kipling’s “If–“. It certainly has its melancholy and even stoic aspect. The formative events of our lives are not the happy and easy ones, and this poem reflects who I am as deeply as something consisting of a single sentence broken across four verses of eight iambic pentameter lines of ABAB rhyme is capable of doing.

About TJ

Scientist, engineer, inventor, writer, poet, sailor, hiker, canoeist, father.
This entry was posted in iambic pentameter, life, poem, poetry. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Then

  1. Alex says:

    This is very good.

  2. Max says:

    Inspiring poem, Tom. While I still love Kipling’s “IF”, I find your conclusion less judgmental and more observational than his. I think that matches the mindset of our contemporary society. And I might add that your text applies to twice as many people because, while many women do not seek to “be a man, my son”, most humans do hope to “know all that it means to live”.

    • TJ says:

      Thanks, Max! I had to work quite hard to get the last few lines right, particularly avoiding the gender-inequality of Kipling’s original. I wanted something that was powerfully evocative but applied to everyone.

    • TJ says:

      Thinking about your comment more deeply I now feel I should write yet another version called “Else” for transgendered women who really did want to grow up to be men!

      • Max says:

        lol, I think those are already covered by “IF”.

        I think “else” should be about the self-satisfied, idle, disinterested and uneducated underachiever who doesn’t want to be a man my son, and who doesn’t even want to know what it means to live. A slack-jawed, soda-gurgling, TV-watching sleepy-head whose motto is “I don’t know and I don’t care”.

        I think that would be elsing those IF and THEN.

  3. Max says:

    And now, I’m simply testing that “Notify me of followup comments” box.

  4. Alex says:

    Yours is a lot less bleak than the original. Kipling work reads like it was meant for the foot soldiers

    • Max says:

      lol, good point! And yes, it has been used to motivate foot soldiers, among others!

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