IF and the periodic sentence



I have quoted from Kipling’s IF, on Authors Quote Wednesday – it is a favourite poem from my childhood, many moons ago. I would read it constantly, even try to memorize it. To no avail. Have no memory for poetry.

What I never realized, until quite late in life, was that it was a poem consisting of just one sentence.

Friends and family have often commented on my seeming inability to punctuate. My answer is I do not see punctuation’s absence. I could write a 10 page letter with no full stops because in my head I knew where they were and never realized I hadn’t put them in. We have decided, now that I know I have the condition, that is due to me having Dyspraxia.

My excuse anyway.

IF, is one sentence, made up of a long list of conditional clauses. Try it.

I discovered this when reading Mark Forsyth’s book The Elements of Eloquence. I highly recommend this fascinating book which details the various ‘figures of rhetoric’.

What are they?

Well, rhetoric is the art of persuasion by means of spoken, written and visual means, and figures of such are the techniques for finding a different way of creating memorable lines of words. They began, as so much to do with writing does, with the ancient Greeks and are still used today. There is something wonderful about words,writing and speech in the way it can persist in unbroken lines or even slightly dotted lines through so many centuries and touch such a myriad of people.

So they invented the periodic sentence. Periodic sentences are used for suspense,drama and emphasis. The opposite to a loose sentence (loose does not mean soft/sloppy/ lackadaisical or even immoral in this context), a loose sentence has it’s main clause right at the beginning.

A sentence such as ‘ IF’ keeps its main verb until the end and so, to make sense,one is forced to read to the end.

A line of words, as my friend from forever/editor keeps reminding me does not a sentence make just because it has a full stop or period at the end. Well not a grammatical sentence anyway (some of mine do!)

It doesn’t have to be conditional clauses, one just has to make the reader/listener hang on until grammar can say
‘Okay folks, stop the sentence’.
Shakespeare would write his periodic sentences by heaping a succession of nouns before the end, songwriters as well.

Until I read this book I hadn’t realized? remembered?anything about the periodic sentence , even though I have always enjoyed reading them in novel. Short and sharp, great in their place but some of those meandering sentences the old classics used to indulge in, lovely.

IF by Rudyard Kipling

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 imposters 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 breath 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!

One thought on “IF and the periodic sentence

  1. Kathy says:

    I wrote a comment, but my connection was interrupted and it was lost. I don’t have time to write it again now, but I’ll be back.

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