ROTTERDAM – I know what you’re thinking.

You read the title, and you’re thinking, “this must be some Buzzfeed-like article containing some shallow-ass, bullet-point-based lesson about life with some pictures of people running into the sunset, or jumping on the beach”.

I know that, because that’s what I thought. I’m not sure if I am disappointed now that I’ve read what “memorizing if” entails:

Before Google and the internet, people memorized stuff. When your grandpa went to school, memorization was the main method of learning, and he had to commit things like the Gettysburg Address and sonnets by William Shakespeare to memory. Decades ago, rote leaning went entirely out of fashion amongst educators, in favor of helping students think creatively and problem solve.

Yet, the pendulum swung a bit too far, and the baby got chucked out with the bathwater. For in truth, there are many advantages to memorizing information. After all, while it’s important to be able to think and apply knowledge, if you don’t have any knowledge to apply, knowing how to apply it is pretty useless. This is where memorization comes in.

Great Men in the past could recite Hamlet backwards, and you dare to (very secretly even though you’ve repeatedly been told it’s not a reliable source) still look stuff up on Wikipedia when you’re not getting it. You lazy bum. No wonder stupidity has been roaming around freely in our societies. For years, we haven’t been using our brains properly, setting ourselves to the task of memorizing what we really need to know.

The ancient Greeks understood this.

See! If the ancient Greeks understood that, it must be true.

They began the schooling of their young men by having them memorize the poetry of Homer or the wise words of Solon, the founder of Athenian democracy [they totally did, all of them].

The West’s most famous wordsmith, William Shakespeare, [something about how Shakespeare was a Great Man and how he taught himself to be Great by memorizing epic poetry].

Almost the entirety of Abraham Lincoln’s education was self-directed, [something about how Lincoln was a Great Man and how he taught himself to be Great by memorizing passages of his favorite authors. Yes, I know, compared to Shakespeare memorizing epic poetry it’s a bit of an anti-climax].

However, in the modern age we’ve got Google. And Google makes you dumber. Kids these days just learn how to apply knowledge, but not how to memorize it anymore. And whatever evidence exists that points out people have been getting smarter in the last 60 years I will stubbornly ignore.

Oh, God, they want me to memorize something, don’t they?

So today, we’re going reverse the trend of having to depend on the Google crutch by memorizing Rudyard Kipling’s poem If. Let’s get started.

They do. I have never heard of Rudyard Kipling, and I am a poet who reads quite some poetry. I’ve got a bad feeling about this.

But first, pre usual, why should you want to memorize Kipling’s If?

Improved writing.

Increased vocabulary.

Sure, sure.

A more interesting personality. I’ve always been impressed by that very rare man who can weave a snippet of a great speech or poem into a conversation. Being able to throw some inspiration from Wordsworth or a bit of wit from Twain into your conversations can definitely distinguish  you as a gentleman of letters. The trick is to be discriminating when you start reciting stuff. If you do it too much or at the wrong times, you’ll just make yourself look like a pompous ass.

A strengthened backbone. The most important benefit of memorizing passages from great works is that you’ll be storing up a treasure trove of wisdom and knowledge that you can immediately access  when you need extra motivation to man up. Feeling a little nervous while you’re waiting in the lobby for a job interview? Recite Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” to yourself. Perhaps you’ve been put in a leadership position and need to get psyched up to lead your group to success. Mull over the words to the “St. Crispen’s Day”speech. There’s probably a poem or a great speech that can be used to motivate you for any facet of your life.

You need to ask yourself a very important question: do you want to be the man who recites Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” speech while you’re waiting in the lobby, or are you going to be one of those people who is nervously checking his phone, or Facebook, or is whatsapping his mother, or checking out the latests posts on FuckMyLife? You’re sitting in the train, and you are reading the biography of Lincoln. The people around you are nervously shifting in their seats at the casual display of your masculine intellectualism.

I wonder how manly you’d be if you instead would be reading Judith Butler. You’d still be intellectual, but I imagine you’d be losing the manly edge there.

This is a very particular brand of intellectualism: the masculine version, pretty much. As a cynic feminist would say: history in itself is a masculine version of what actually went down, however, that’s not enough anymore. You can’t just read on the history of the Traveling Pants. It’s the French Revolution now. Or the Second World War. Or how Carnegie transformed himself into a millionaire. Something involving bullets, violence and transformation. Whatever you’re reading, it better be written by a Great Man and it better be about Great Things.

After all, who doesn’t want to be the guy who quotes Twain in casual conversation?

Today’s Task: MemorizeIf by Rudyard Kipling

Exercising your memorization muscles is clearly beneficial, but many men are totally out of practice or have never tried. So today we’re going to start working out those muscles, starting with one of the manliest poems ever written- If- by Rudyard Kipling. It’s a poem that every man should have thoroughly lodged in his head, ready to conjure up whenever he’s feeling down.

It’s not too short, but it’s not too long either. I think memorizing it is doable in the next day or two. Go to it!


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 all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath 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!

That is a terrible poem. No fucking way I am going to memorize that. I’ll employ Sherlock’s argument that the brain is like a computer, and I don’t want to waste the space I have on shit like this. I already have a hard enough time realizing I still know most of the lyrics to Lady GaGa’s “Just Dance”. I have to be confronted on a regular basis that I know that Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez used to date. Man, I have to come to terms with the fact that I know that Kim and Kanye have a baby named North West. Fuck me.

I’d rather pick one myself:


a few years will go by
slowly growing
like trees in a line
and you will be passing by
floating, monumentally.

I paid you back in kind
for taking away
my heart and my mind
but inevitably,
I was going downstream.

I questioned all
cut down the trees
planted new ones
amongst the stumps
it was all so seemingly

and years went by
my trees growing,
the stumps overgrown
the line fully in bloom
and you just passed by
floating, monumentally

Man-meter: I am quite happy with this poem. Not sure how all of this is linked to my masculinity, though.


One thought on “30 DAYS TO BE A BETTER MAN: (10) MEMORIZE “IF”

  1. Pingback: 30 DAYS TO BE A BETTER MAN: BOYS WILL BE BOYS (Concluding Remarks: part II) | thepoliticalnarrator

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