‘If I Were King’ is a sixteen-line poem that is divided into sets of two lines, or couplets. The rhyme scheme of this piece, as with most poems aimed at a young audience, is consistent. It follows a pattern of AA BB CC DD, and so on, alternating end sounds throughout. The only couplets that have the same end rhymes are the first and the last with the “-ing” sound. They also share the same end words, “King” and “anything,” although they are reversed in order in the eighth couplet.
In regards to the rhythm, ‘If I Were King’ is also very regulated. The lines are written in iambic tetrameter. This means that each line contains four sets of two beats. The first is unstressed and the second is stressed.
The poem begins with the speaker telling the reader that he thinks a lot about what it’s like to be a king. He goes through a number of different countries and activities he’d like to participate, or not participate, in. These include keeping wild animals, like elephants, not wearing his hat or brushing his hair, and thinking of “lovely things to do.”
He shows his desire to gain some control over his life and those around him. The child speaker feels as if the rules imposed on him are unfair and would like to get rid of them. The funny, yet poignant, desires of the speaker are widely relatable to any child reading the text, making this piece a great example of children’s poetry.
You can read the full poem here.
One of the most common techniques used by Milne in this text is that of repetition. This functions well within children’s poetry as it adds to the sing song-like sound of the lines. It also makes it easier, and perhaps more fun for a child to hear read aloud, or read themselves.
The technique can be seen taking shape more prominently as anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of a line. Milne makes use of the same phrases over and over again as the childish speaker describes what he would do if he were king. The words “If and “I” begin most of the lines.
Analysis of If I Were King
I often wish I were a King,
I’d take my hat off in the rain.
In the first line of ‘If I Were King’ the speaker begins by making the simple statement that he often wishes that he were “a King.” He has a very clear image in mind of what this means, and, as might be expected, it is charmingly humorous. This speaker is very clearly a child and therefore his ideas of what a king is and does are tinged by his youthful ignorance.
He believes, perhaps rightly in some instances, that if he were a king then he “could do anything.” He reaches out in the next lines to try to think of all the fun and interesting things he’d have the power to do.
The speaker also moves through a number of different countries and activities. Many of these are on the speaker’s mind (probably) because his parents or some other authority figure told him he can’t do them. In lines three and four he imagines himself as the “King of Spain.” If this was the case then he’d take his hat off “in the rain.” This is such a random and strange thing to want to do it has to be connected to a very specific set of circumstances. Maybe he tried to take his hat off recently and a parent told him no.
If only I were King of France,
I’d push things off the mantelpiece.
In lines five and six the speaker brings up another country, this time France. He thinks that if he were the “King of France” that he’d be able to decide when and how he does his hair. This statement in particular seems quite relatable to a child’s experience. He would choose not to “brush [his] hair for aunts.”
This phrase paints a very clear picture of a child who is reigned in when family members come to visit. He has to clean himself up in order to look presentable for “aunt,” or any other rarely seen relation.
In lines seven and eight he pushes back against his family members by wishing that he could “push things off the mantlepiece.” This statement is different from the others. It shows the irritation the child feels over the regulated moments of his life. It is connected to the desire not to brush his hair and certainly seems like something an angry king might do.
If I were King of Norroway,
I’d leave my button gloves undone.
The next lines are more humor and less tyrannical. The speaker wishes that he could become the “King of Norroway.” The addition of a syllable in the word “Norway” forces the meter into the same form but also adds a funny twist as if the child isn’t quite sure of the name of the country. He thinks about how cool it would be to have “an elephant…stay.” He could ask for and keep any animal he wanted if he were king. There would be no one to stop him.
He also wonders about being the “King of Babylon.” In this scenario, he would “leave [his] button gloves undone.” This reads as another protest against the rules parents give their children.
If I were King of Timbuctoo,
I’d tell the soldiers, “I’m the King!”
In the final four lines, the speaker thinks about becoming the “King of Timbuctoo.” There is less definition to this position. All he knows is that he’d “think of lovely things to do.” This leaves his options wide open for whatever he can think of.
The last lines show the child’s need (again) to have some power over his own life. He’d go up to the soldiers at his command and tell them that he is the king. There is no reason for him to do this, expect to asset his control over someone else. This speaks to the helplessness and powerlessness that one can experience as a child.