Today is the birthday of Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), England’s master storyteller and poet. Kipling was British, but he lived many years in India where he was born. Known especially for his short stories and his popular work of fiction The Jungle Book (1894), Kipling was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907 when he was just 42 years old. He was the first English language writer to win the prize, and he was also the youngest ever to win the prize
In addition to his well-known fiction, Kipling was also a poet. In 1910, he published the poem “If,” which remains today one of the best known poems ever written in English.
Written in the voice of a father giving advice to his son, the four-stanzas of the poem make up a single 283-word sentence. More specifically, the single sentence is a complex sentence, constructed in the form of a periodic sentence, a sentence that begins with subordinate phrases or clauses, and ends with the main clause. In the case of Kipling’s poem “If,” he crafts twelve subordinate clauses, each beginning with the subordinating conjunction “if,” and ends with an independent clause. Each of the “if” clauses provides conditions or prerequisites for manhood. The speaker in the poem, the father, concludes with a statement, saying in effect, by making the choice to do these things, you will be a man and the world will be yours.
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 structure of Kipling’s poem demonstrates the power of the periodic sentence. Certainly no one is writing 200-word sentences these days; however, using a periodic structure that begins with a string of subordinate ideas is a nice technique for drawing your reader in and building dramatic tension. The periodic structure also allows a writer to capitalize on the rhythm created by parallel structure and the anticipation created by compounding details (1).
Subordination is a fundamental aspect of writing that is used for more than just periodic sentences. Subordination in syntax relates to a method of constructing sentences where some of the ideas in a sentence are dependent on other parts.
For example, take the following two sentences:
Bill loves to read. Bill is always carrying a book.
To show a logical relationship between these two ideas and combine them into a single sentence, we can use a subordinating conjunction (because) to make one idea subordinate to the other:
Because he loves to read, Bill is always carrying a book.
Instead of two simple sentences, we now have a single complex sentence, a sentence with one independent clause and at least one dependent clause. In the sentence about Bill, the clause “Because he loves to read” is dependent because it cannot stand alone; it needs the independent clause “Bill is always carrying a book” in order to form a complete thought.
Because subordination is such an effective method for logically combining ideas, it makes sense for writers to recognize subordinating conjunctions, the words that signal the logical connections between ideas.
The following are the most frequently used subordinating conjunctions:
after, although, as, before, because, even though, if, since, so that, unless, until, when, while
These words signal four basic logical relationships. Read the examples below to see the different ways that subordinating conjunctions connect ideas:
Cause and Effect (or Reasons): because, since, so that
Because he loves to read, Bill is always carrying a book.
Contrast (or Concession): although, even though, though, while, whereas
Although he loves to write, Bill’s favorite pastime is reading.
Time:before, after, as, once, since, while, when, whenever
After Bill gets home from school, he sits down and reads the newspaper.
Condition: if, once, unless
If Bill gets money for his birthday, he plans to buy some new books.
Today’s Challenge: WIIFM
What is a specific skill you have or an activity you participate in that you would be willing to promote for the general public? What makes this skill or activity so worthwhile? Use subordination to write the introduction to a “how to” speech that provides direction on how to achieve something desirable. Begin with “if” clauses that give your audience the WIIFM, or “What’s in it for me.” Structure your subordinate clauses using parallel structure to give your sentence clarity and rhythm. Crafting a periodic sentences using this structure will build your audience’s interest and anticipation to learn more about your topic.
-Join a specific organization or club
-Learn a specific skill or enhance a talent, such as singing, dancing, or barbecuing
-Take a specific class or course of study
-Participate in a new type of pastime, such as hang gliding, stamp collecting, or origami
-Achieve a lifelong goal, such as graduating college, climbing a mountain, or running a marathon
-Practice a good habit that will improve your life, such as avoiding procrastination, practicing meditation, or eating right
Notice how the 83-word sentence below uses parallelism and the “if-then” structure to build audience anticipation:
If you want to be the life of the party, if you want to impress strangers on the street and make money while you’re doing it, if you want to learn a life-long skill that will keep you active and provide you with mental stimulation, if you want to improve both your ability to persevere and your hand-eye coordination, and if you want a form of mediation that won’t allow you to fall asleep, then learning to juggle is the way to go.
(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)
1-Forsyth, Mark. The Elements of Eloquence. London: Icon Books, 2013: 47.