If You Can’t Fly, Then Run

Origin of If You Can’t Fly Then Run

The exact origin of this phrase is the Bible, specifically the book of  Isaiah. Later, however, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used this phrase in his speech at a college rally when he said, “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” In fact, he is motivating the youth refrain from becoming pessimistic, urging them to move forward, and to fight for their rights and justice.

Meaning of If You Can’t Fly Then Run

Dr. King preached to people, and adopted this as his way of life. He used the Gospels as a model to express his ideas in his fight for justice. He wanted students to get involved in active, yet peaceful, demonstrations. He was well aware of the fact that the youth would go on to lead their country one day; therefore, they needed to get involved. Generally, the phrase conveys a message of perseverance in life to achieve your goals.

Usage of If You Can’t Fly Then Run

This phrase has become a very famous quote since Dr. King used it in his college speeches. It is a highly motivational line that we usually find in written works, offices, and everyday and political speeches. For instance, parents and teachers often deliver this line to their children and students as a piece of advice, so that they should not give up, or should not become hopeless no matter how tough their life may become.

Literary Source of If You Can’t Fly Then Run

The exact origin of this phrase is not known, though it is reported that it appeared in the book of Isaiah for the first time, but later Martin Luther King used it in his famous speech at a Spelman college rally in Sisters Chapel. He said:

“Keep moving, for it may well be that the greatest song has not yet been sung, the greatest book has not been written, the highest mountain has not been climbed. This is your challenge! Reach out and grab it… but there is something we can learn from the broken grammar of that mother, that we must keep moving. If you can’t fly, run; if you can’t run, walk; if you can’t walk, crawl; but by all means keep moving.”

(Spelman College Museum April I960, pp. 10-11)

In this passage, Dr. King is preaching to his people a lesson of moving ahead and focusing on goals in life, despite facing difficulties. In fact, he wanted African Americans to fight for the same rights held by whites in the U.S.. He did not want people to think about impossibilities; rather, he inspired them to focus on possibilities.

Literary Analysis of If You Can’t Fly Then Run

The phrase comprises two parts, where the one puts the analogy of flying and running in front of the young generation, then puts forth the second option if the first is not available. As a leading figure in the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. King did hard work to initiate peaceful protests against injustice going on in the South against African Americans. Dr. King encouraged them to keep their determination high, regardless of what their limitations are, and to increase their efforts for improvement. They need not worry about what they could not do, instead they should focus on doing what they can do. If they do so, they would end up achieving things even that might seem impossible.

Literary Devices

  • Symbolism: All the words “fly, run, walk, and crawl” symbolize perseverance.
  • Analogy: The phrase is an analogy with birds as they start running if they cannot fly when they are injured and so on.

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