If I–

Since poetry seems to be in the air at the moment, I figured I’d take a stab at that most optimistic and humble of 20th century poems, the one so regularly repeated at weddings and graduations. That one that makes fathers tear up as they think of their boys, all grown up and ready for the world, and yet at least as unprepared for it as they were. The one that hints the complexity, uncertainty, loss, and gain that will inevitably face us all.

My re-write : “If I–” (2015)

If I can keep it together when all and everyone
Are losing their cool and hating me,
If I can trust my WoT until my time is done,
And be the Pete the world requires of me ;
If I can be patient without daydreaming,
Or be scammed without scamming,
Or be loved without loving,
And still dress to the 9s and maintain philosophising :

If I can dream – and have sleepy giggles that wake her up;
If I can think – and think nothing of it ;
If I can face Victory and Failure head-on, straight-up
With equanimity and grace, no shit ;
If I can confront the cold reality of the world I see before
And not as I wish it would be,
Or find the remnants of my shattered dreams on the floor,
And find the strength to rebuild, you’ll see:

If I can stack my stacks to the sky
And throw them all on black,
And win and never get too high
And never whisper about non-lack;
If I can force my bones and beauty and brain
To serve my ends long after they’re gone,
And so make the most of that under my reign
As much as what I’ve taken on.

If I can talk to cattle and keep my cool
Or walk with Lords without missing a beat,
If neither agents nor friends take me for a fool,
If smart men trust me, sans un peu d’entreat;
If I can make the most of the time alotted
By grabbing Destiny by the scruff,
Mine is the Earth and everything I’ve spotted
And – what’s more – I’ll be a Man, no bluff!

The original : Rudyard Kipling’s “If–” (1943)

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!

This isn’t the first time I’ve re-written a poem, will today be yours ?

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