When I was 15 years old and attended the 9th grade in high school, I participated in the municipal English language contest. These kind of school contests, or ‘Olympiads’  as they are called, are very popular throughout the post-soviet territory, and are held in nearly every subject.

As part of preparation for the contest my English teacher – a great person and a great pedagogue – suggested that I should learn by heart the poem ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling. I remember how my teacher was excited about the poem. Even more excited was she when reciting it to me.

I also remember being puzzled. By that time my only image of Kipling was that of the author of ‘Maugli’. I simply could not understand how a poem would be useful during the English language contest. However, as I started reading and learning the poem itself, I got more and more hooked. Moreover, somehow I was dead sure I could make use of it during the contest.

The last exercise of the contest, as it was announced beforehand, was a free discussion on a random topic. I don’t remember now what that topic was. I do remember though that I could nicely connect it with the Poem recited passionately in front of the jury.

I won that contest and became “number one” in town among twenty schools represented.

As time passed by, I turned back to the poem over and over again. This seems to be one of those few pieces that bring inspiration literally forever. Today, its lines resonate even more vividly inside of me when when back in my teens.

If I were asked to leave the only literary piece of work on Earth, I would select If without a doubt.

I hope it can inspire and guide others like it does for me.



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