Blagojevich's Poetry Obsession Explained

A football game in 1980 first turned the embattled governor on to Kipling.

Jan. 26, 2009 — -- It wasn't in the library but rather while watching football as a teenager that embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich first heard the Rudyard Kipling poem he has publicly quoted ever since he was arrested last month and accused of attempting to sell the Senate seat vacated by President Obama.

Blagojevich concluded his first press conference Dec. 19, 10 days after he was indicted, by reciting the first verse of Kipling's "If," which is about perseverance in the face of opposition, to emphasize his point that he is being unfairly prosecuted.

In several interviews and press conferences since then, he has regularly repeated lines from the 1910 poem, as well as the final verse of "Ulysses" by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

The frequent poetry references stand in stark contrast to the profane language federal investigators recorded him using on the wiretap that led to his arrest, and has left observers to wonder why he frequently quotes the poem in the media.

"That poem to me really exemplifies the ups and downs and struggles of life, and the need to have perseverance and stick to things and come back, that really make you a person of character," Blagojevich told

"You guys can mock the poetry, but they're words I've known for a long time and believe in," he said.

The governor said he first heard the poem recited during a football game sometime around 1980.

"I've known that poem since I was 15 years old," Blagojevich said. "I learned that -- I wish I could tell you I was in a library reading it, but I was watching the NFL in probably 1980, roughly," he said.

An announcer "who had this great voice" recited the poem over film of running backs during a halftime feature, and a young Blagojevich heard "this voice reciting this motivating, inspiring poem, and I said I want to get that poem. So the next day I went to school and got a copy of it and memorized it."

Blagojevich Recites Kipling Repeatedly

In December, Blagojevich recited the poem's first verse at a press conference:

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

The governor again recited a line from "If" on "Good Morning America" this morning.

At a Jan. 9 press conference, Blagojevich opted instead to quote the last lines of Tennyson's "Ulysses," which reads:

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

That Blagojevich learned the poem from watching football on television jibes with much of what is known about the governor, who was an athlete when he was younger. A high school basketball player and Elvis Presley fan, Blagojevich trained to become a Golden Gloves boxer for a time as a teenager.

Blagojevich's impeachment trial began today, but the governor was not present. He refused to participate because he said the rules are unfair.