If… By 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!
Now, you may think that, as splendid as this poem by the great Rudyard Kipling is, it has no place here and cannot be related to our production of Woyzeck, right? Well, I think you’re wrong.
Let me explain.
Well, for a start, Georg Buchner wrote Woyzeck between 1836 and 1837. Rudyard Kipling died in 1936 almost exactly one hundred years after Buchner wrote Woyzeck. However, I suppose this is a little tenuous, so let’s dig further…
Kipling wrote If as part of his 1910 book Rewards and Fairies, a sequel to his earlier work for children entitled Puck of Pook’s Hill. He later wrote that Rewards and Fairies was really more intended for adults than children.
If, to me, has a chaotic nature and a theme that is ultimately upbeat, even though it may not seem it. This reflects the play Woyzeck; we know that both the play and the character of Woyzeck himself seem chaotic in their nature. Certainly, the narrative of the piece is such that allows the scenes to be played in virtually any order. Arguably, Woyzeck could almost be trying to live up to this poem; trying to live a good life and do right by his young family in the belief that everything will work out fine, that is, until the betrayal of his mistress which would send him into a downward spiral from which he cannot recover.
Victor Price tells us in the introduction to his translations of Buchner’s plays “The terse dialogue, the haunting fragments of old folksong, give it an overwhelming bleakness and poignancy” (2008, p.xx). I find this is also the case with If, in particular, the first verse, although, in the case of Woyzeck, it is he who is losing his head. As much as I would like to lay out and dissect the poem for comparison, I’ll let you go through the poem and make the other connections, because they are far too numerous for me to lay out each one, and I run the risk of being very dull indeed.
In relation to our production, it is hoped that with the combination of lights, sound, and the hopefully unsettling nature of our promenade performance, the parallels will become more apparent.
Buchner, George (2008). Danton’s Death, Leonce and Lena, and Woyzeck. Translated and introduced by Victor Price. Oxford: Oxford University Press.