THIS MONTH’S PARODY (June) If – Kipling

Every MONTH I shall be posting a different verse parody alongside the original poem, song lyric or nursery rhyme. There will also be the occasional limerick – which means there will occasionally be some words and content that some may find offensive. Be warned!

I’m kicking off with one of the best loved poems in the English language, Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’. It’s also one of the most parodied. Inspired by the Jameson Raid, Kipling wrote it in the same year (1895) though it was not published until 1910 when it appeared in Rewards and Fairies, a collection of Kipling’s short stories and poems . Here it is followed by five of my favourite – and I think best – rewrites.


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 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!


H A C Evans

 If you can’t trim your sails to suit the weather,

If you can’t take your chance to pass the buck,

If you can’t offer cardboard goods as leather

And then persuade the mugs to buy the muck;

If you can’t work a profitable fiddle

Or cheat the Customs when you’ve been abroad,

If you can’t wangle your returns, and diddle

The Income Tax, yet not be charged with fraud;

If you can’t learn the craft of social climbing

And damn the eyes of those who’re underneath;

If you can’t kid your friend you’re not two-timing,

Then, when it suits you, kick him in the teeth;

If you can’t run a car on public money,

Or have your lunch each day at the Savoy,

You’re going to find that life’s not at all funny,

For, take my tip, you’ll miss the bus, old boy.


Nathaniel Gubbins

If you can nag and not be tired by nagging,

If you can cry and not be bored to tears,

If you can keep him quiet while you are bragging

Of men who loved you, and your wasted years;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To scream and argue for a whole day long,

And keep on talking when there’s nothing in you

Except the will to prove that he is wrong;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With arguments that make the senses whirl,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And – which is more – you’ll be a wife, my girl.

If you can get yourself a fancy title,
Though no one knows just what your job’s about,
If you can screw up projects that are vital,
Then shift the blame before they find you out;
If you can treat a rival like a brother,
Then stab him in the back each chance you can;
If you can steal the program of another,
Then take the credit that it was your plan;

If you can rig expenses that are phony,
While everyone believes that they are real;
If you can take long lunches with a crony,
And make your boss believe you’ve closed a deal;
If you can get the office staff to love you,
When in your heart of hearts you think they’re dirt;
If you can look alive to those above you,
When nine to five no effort you exert;

If you can seem free-thinking and courageous,
Yet always end up siding with your boss;
If you can get a mammoth raise in wages,
Yet make him feel you’re working at a loss;
If every line that’s written here you’ve noted,
And every rule and precept you obey,
Then to the highest spot you’ll be promoted,
Unless, of course, you’re knifed along the way.”

If you can keep your wealth when all about you
Are losing theirs from paying income tax;
If you can make quite sure that no one doubts you
By selling to the networks your own “facts”;
If you can reap the harvest that is waiting
For those who fight both sides of one same war;
If you spend hours televised, debating
For bussing and for “welfare” for the “poor”;

If you can trade with Reds, and all the while
Be charging what they owe to our own banks;
If you can have us lose a war, then smile,
Because you know you’re only getting thanks;
If you can hold an office, but each minute
Be out afloat, and calmly goin’ fishin’,
The U.S.A. is yours, and all that’s in it,
Because, my son, you’ll be a politician.


Virginia Graham

 If you can go unswerving as an arrow,

Favouring neither foreigner nor friend,

If though the gate be straight, the pathway narrow,

You can pursue it to the very end,

If you can wait for those who lag behind you,

If you can gather strangers to your breast,

If the surbated traveler can find you

A home from home, an harbinger of rest.

If you are guided by some heavenly power,

Lit from within by a celestial light,

If you can keep your bearings hour by hour

However grey the day or dark the night,

If you can nurse the iron in your soul,

Finish the journey you have well begun,

Live on these lines till you have reached your goal,

You’ll be a tram, my son.

If – you want to be a true jihadi

If you can hack the head off from a hostage
Who ‘s kneeling bound and helpless on the floor;
If you can purge yourself of each last vestige
Of decency, morality, and Law;
If you can hate and never tire of hating,
Or, faced with truth, still hold fast to your lies,
Or, while you ‘re hard at work decapitating,
Show no trace of pity in your eyes:

If you can teach your kids the “victim” story,
Stir Muslim losers trapped in English slums,
Fill youthful heads with crackpot dreams of glory,
And urge them on to fiery martyrdoms;
If you can use religion as a cover
For deeds no man could pardon or excuse,
Or claim that all the ills we humans suffer
Are machinations of the evil Jews:

If you can use the fruits of Western science
(A science that your culture cannot match)
To broadcast all your hatred and defiance,
Or carry out your crimes with more dispatch;
If you can put aside sectarian violence,
Co-operate with Shi’ites from Iran,
Unite Islam; intimidate to silence
All Muslims who won’t sign up to your plan:

If you can fly a plane into a building
Filled with harmless folk you’ve never seen,
Or seize a school that ‘s full of little children
And murder them when rescuers break in;
If you can fill each precious living minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of evil done,
Yours is heaven, and all the virgins in it,
And then you’ll be a real jihadi, son! ”


An “If” for Girls

by Elizabeth Lincoln Otis

If you can dress to make yourself attractive,
       Yet not make puffs and curls your chief delight;
If you can swim and row, be strong and active,
       But of the gentler graces lose not sight;
If you can dance without a craze for dancing,
       Play without giving play too strong a hold,
Enjoy the love of friends without romancing,
       Care for the weak, the friendless and the old;
If you can master French and Greek and Latin,
       And not acquire, as well, a priggish mien,
If you can feel the touch of silk and satin
       Without despising calico and jean;
If you can ply a saw and use a hammer,
       Can do a man’s work when the need occurs,
Can sing when asked, without excuse or stammer,
       Can rise above unfriendly snubs and slurs;
If you can make good bread as well as fudges,
       Can sew with skill and have an eye for dust,
If you can be a friend and hold no grudges,
       A girl whom all will love because they must;
If sometime you should meet and love another
       And make a home with faith and peace enshrined,
And you its soul—a loyal wife and mother—
       You’ll work out pretty nearly to my mind
The plan that’s been developed through the ages,
       And win the best that life can have in store,
You’ll be, my girl, the model for the sages—
       A woman whom the world will bow before.
Source: Father: An Anthology of Verse (EP Dutton & Company, 1931)


  • Josef K wrote:

    If – you want to be a true jihadi
    What a NASTY piece of racist non-sense.
    ”If you can use the fruits of Western science
    (A science that your culture cannot match)”

    Do you realize how much of European science was based on Islamic scholarship. Whilst that culture was pushing boundaries forward, Xtianity was pushing ”scientists” onto bonfires of books.

  • I came across a parody of “If” that described what a happy and successful marriage be. I thought it excellent. But I cannot track it down.
    do you by any chance know where it is printed or where I can get hold of it?
    Many thanks, Gwyn

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