The Wise and the Witty

Thursday is supposed to be a day of quotes that I’ve either run across during the week, or dredged up from from my collection. This week I’m going to change it up a bit and post what is probably my favorite poem (although I have several that might fit the bill). This poem formed no part of my childhood, as I ran across it when I was in my 20’s. However, I think it serves as a great manifesto for the boy who, in the fullness of time, will become a man.

The idea of manliness is much debated in our society and this debate is something that I’m just starting to become aware of. Dealing with young men at university, I see that they struggle hugely with the idea of manliness and masculinity. Like I said, I’m just starting to become aware of this problem, and I think my lack of awareness is due to a lack of exposure.

I joined the Army at 17, so I was able to develop my sense of manliness at the same time that I was handed a centuries-old tradition of manhood neatly wrapped up in a rite-of-passage. So for me, the ‘search’ for manhood led me to the Army and from there it just sort of… happened. But I can see the results in the lives of young men around me who struggle with the idea of manliness.

I think I might have to write about this topic further. But in the meantime, here’s Kipling’s directive for making the transition from boy to man:


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!

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