Friday Reflections – Kipling’s ‘If’ at Wimbledon: Embracing Triumph and Disaster

Friday Reflections - Kipling's 'If' at Wimbledon Embracing Triumph and Disaster.

This week marked the start of Wimbledon, famously Inscribed on the wall above the doorway to Centre Court, the last thing the players see before they walk out to take battle in front of thousands, in possibly the biggest game of their dedicated lives, are two lines from Rudyard Kipling’s 1910 poem ‘If–’ (1910): The inscription reads: ‘If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster / And treat those two impostors just the same’.

Some people have criticised the placing of these lines at Wimbledon as they believe it implies players shouldn’t show emotion either from winning or losing – Personally, I don’t read it that way. For me it is about remembering that both success and failure are fleeting, so on the one hand be humble in success and show empathy for your defeated opponent and on the other hand do not let the failure define you. Stay level-headed and calm don’t believe your own press, good or bad.

Whilst I knew the Poem well and understood its meaning, it’s advice on how we should live our lives and rise above the adversity that we will no doubt face with composure and humility. And I knew that it appeared at the player’s entrance to the centre court but what I didn’t know was who the poem was originally written about.

Kipling wrote the poem in 1895 having been inspired by the actions and character of Leander Starr Jameson who it appears was, at the time a hero in London. Jameson had led the failed Jameson Raid aimed at overthrowing the Boer Government. Jameson Riad was not officially endorsed by the British government and perhaps because it failed Jameson and his fellow officers were arrested and tried for invading a friendly state. Jameson took personal responsibility for the failed raid and refused to share telegrams or say anything that would implicate others (many of whom were believed to be at the very highest positions in government) despite the fact that this would likely have enabled him or his men to avoid prison.

I guess this all points to the line in the Poem: ‘If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too;’

Personally, I love the Poem, I will post a complete version in the comments if you want to remind yourself of it. Just remember whether England win the euros or not, whoever won the election yesterday, or whether you feel you are currently on top or behind where you wanted to be – it is all fleeting – both winning and losing are temporary – how you carry yourself throughout, and how you brush yourself down and go again are what matter in the end.