On my bedroom mantelpiece, when I was a little girl, there were always three things: a blue glass vase with a white glass snake curling round its neck, a jar with totter-grass in it (this was a special grass we would find on the downs,and sometimes put silver paper round the seed-heads to make it look pretty), and a flat piece of wood decorated in pokerwork with Kipling's famous poem 'IF.'
I very soon had the poem by heart, along with many more (when Dad was on night-duty and I slept wih my Mum, I would entertain her by reciting poetry.)
In fact, as a child I loved poetry and when I found something I liked would set out at once to learn it by heart.
There are literally hundreds of poems and chunks of Shakespeare and the Bible in my ancient brain.
I can give myself a concert when I cant sleep,and feel quite entertained.
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!
The only thing I didnt like about this poem was its emphasis on becoming a MAN.
Why, I thought, should I not walk with Kings?