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.

The speaker opens the poem with these lines (lines 1–4), which establish the poem’s overall structure of parallel “if” statements. All these statements are addressed to a “you” whose identity is not yet clear. Because the addressee isn’t explicitly identified until the poem’s end, we readers can—at least provisionally—think of ourselves as the addressee. In other words, the speaker subtly encourages us to follow along with each of the hypothetical scenarios presented to see how we might stack up. Regarding the passage quoted here, for example, we might ask ourselves if we are able to keep a level head and trust our gut when those around us lose their way and doubt our ability to lead. Although the speaker won’t reveal it until the end of the poem, these lines establish two of the virtues that he believes are crucial components of masculinity: levelheadedness and self-confidence.

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same.

These lines (lines 11–12), which come from the second stanza, expand on the speaker’s initial reference to levelheadedness as a key virtue. Whereas the previous reference, in lines 1–4, spoke of levelheadedness in a general way, the scenario presented here relates more specifically to a British understanding of stoicism. For one thing, notice how the speaker ups the stakes dramatically. Previously, levelheadedness was just about keeping your head when others doubt you. Here, however, the speaker insists that you must keep your head regardless of whether you’re experiencing “Triumph” or “Disaster.” In other words, levelheadedness isn’t just about maintaining emotional stability in the face of adversity. It’s also about not letting your ego get too inflated when things go your way. Levelheadedness is therefore about practicing a mindset of nonreactivity in which you never allow your emotions to sway, regardless of success or failure. Such an extreme mindset of emotional reserve perfectly encapsulates the form of stoicism that prevailed during the Victorian period of late-nineteenth-century Britain.

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!’

These lines (lines 21–24) appear in the third stanza, where the speaker emphasizes the virtue of perseverance. In the first half of the stanza, the speaker describes a scenario where “you” gamble everything, lose it all, then rebuild your wealth, all without complaining. The lines quoted above immediately follow that scenario, and they speak more generally about the importance of holding on even when your will to persevere wanes. What’s perhaps most significant about this passage is how Kipling uses language in ways that subtly echo the theme of perseverance. Most obviously, consider the use of the phrase “hold on” at the beginning of the third line and the end of the fourth. This repetition creates a bookending effect that musically highlights the importance of holding on. For a subtler example, consider the phrase “long after they are gone.” This phrase uses a reversing pattern for both vowels and consonants. The O and A sounds each repeat in a mirror order: O-A-A-O. The same thing happens with the N and G sounds, which initially appear together in “long” and then apart and in reverse order in “gone.” The use of sound to unify longer phrases echoes the theme of perseverance with subtle power.

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

The speaker closes the poem with these lines (lines 31–32), which are arguably the most important in the entire text. First, these lines offer a formal conclusion to the succession of parallel “if” statements that comprise the poem up to this point. The hypothetical “if” clauses that appear in lines 1–30 give the overall poem a conditional structure that anticipates a concluding “then” clause. Even though the poem’s final two lines don’t explicitly use the word “then” to signal the conclusion, we can an infer the “then” at the beginning: “If ____, [then] yours is the Earth.” Second, in offering a conclusion to all the “if”s, the speaker also finally reveals the identity of the person to whom all the “you”s of the poem have been addressed: “my son!” Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the poem’s final two lines clarify the speaker’s motivation. Indeed, in addition to learning that the speaker is addressing his son, we also realize that he’s offering him advice on what it means to be a man. In other words, the speaker is motivated by a desire to pass on his vision of an ideal masculinity.