The poem was published in 1895. Nearly 70 years later my grandmother, Gertrude Ahearn, gave a copy of this poem to my father, Michael Ahearn, the day he shipped off to join the United States Marines. For the rest of his life, this was his favorite poem. But that is not the end of the family connection. Years after his death, these words still remind me of my father. Every time I read this, I remember the kind of man he was and the way he exemplified what a good man’s life should be.
Over the years I have made photo collages with this poem, but I have always tried to incorporate the entire poem into one photo. Without fail, the words tend to overwhelm the image. This is one of my early attempts. I did a series of photos of Calla Lilies and the shape of these reminded me of the word “if.” I like this, but I mostly feel the whole poem is just too much for one image.I have been thinking a lot of my parents this week and, of course, this poem came to haunt me again. I wrote it all out in my journal and decided it is well passed time for me to memorize the whole thing — I know it in pieces and parts of it, but if I were asked to recite “If” in order, I would botch the job. As I started thinking of the words I remembered the incredible sunset I photographed about a week ago. The mountains catching the last rays struck me as a worthy backdrop for a poem about personal integrity and strength of character.
To read the entire poem go to: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/175772