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In the poem "If" by Rudyard Kipling, what does "unforgiving minute" suggest?

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rabindranath | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted March 3, 2009 at 11:33 PM via web

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In the poem "If" by Rudyard Kipling, what does "unforgiving minute" suggest?

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mrs-campbell | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted March 3, 2009 at 11:58 PM (Answer #1)

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"If" is filled with advice on how to best spend your time, and best react in each situation that is presented to you, no matter how diverse it is.  So, when Kipling states, "If you can fill the unforgiving minute/With sixty seconds' worth of distance run," he is saying that with every minute that you are given, make the absolute most of it that you can.  "Unforgiving minute" refers to the fact that every single minute is 60 seconds long-no more, and no less.  So when that minute is up, it is gone, forever.  You can't call it back to spend that time differently.  A minute is not merciful; it doesn't slow itself down to give you more time, or tack on a few seconds, or take a few of here or there.  It is unforgiving time; always constant, always running.  So, Kipling's advice is to fill every minute "with sixty seconds' worth of distance run," or to get as much good, effort, energy and distance out of every minute that you are given.  I hope that helps!

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jillyfish | Student, Undergraduate | Valedictorian

Posted March 4, 2009 at 12:00 AM (Answer #2)

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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!

'If' is a homage to protestant Victorian values. The poem tries to define how to be 'a man'. It lists the characteristics, virtues and actions of what Kipling felt defined perfect, civilised manliness.

In his poem he talks about 'the unforgiving minute' because time never stops. The 30 seconds you've spent reading this are nowgone forever. You are pemanently 30 seconds older (...35...) Time won't wait for you. So a man should fill each minute with 60 seconds worth of effort and industry. One thing his generation hated was wasting time on frivolity and 'pleasure'. Life was work and work was real pleasure, not wasting time with entertainment or distractions.  

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kathrynemorse | High School Teacher | eNoter

Posted September 12, 2011 at 6:41 AM (Answer #3)

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"...If you can fill the unforgiving minute/ with sixty seconds' worth of distance run,..."

Notice that these lines refer specifically to time, and that Kipling is referring to an unforgiving minute. What about time would you consider unforgiving? Will it stop, pause, or rewind? Could the lack of these abilities be characterized as unforgiving?

Consider what life would be like if we could just set back time. It really would be convenient! Since we can't turn back time, each action we take should be measured, not unlike the advice found in Kipling's poem to his son.

Kipling's poem urges the reader to make the most of life while he can. Ironically, his own son John to whom this appears to be written, died at a very young age fighting in the war.

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greenzrx | eNotes Newbie

Posted July 15, 2009 at 2:10 AM (Answer #4)

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While the above answers make sense, and are probably more correct than mine, I always interpreted the unforgiving minute to be times of difficulty, or duress.

If you can give your all and perform under harsh circumstances as opposed to only being able to function when things are easy.

just my $0.02.

--Chris

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sidmufc | Student, Grade 10 | Honors

Posted September 1, 2011 at 12:55 PM (Answer #5)

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In these lines the poet Kipling affirms the importance of a strong work ethics. The minutes are unforgiving that is the time is impatient and relentless. A moment spent in lethargy makes us regretful in the days to come. We should make use of every moment in our life in our strife to attain our goals. All the sixty seconds in a minute should be put to worthy use. Constant and diligent labour is the sterling virtue of a genuine man. Praise of a strong work ethic is echoed throughout the poem, as is a warning against idleness.

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chalesq | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted January 19, 2012 at 1:02 PM (Answer #6)

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pandawill44 | College Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted February 23, 2012 at 10:33 AM (Answer #7)

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Consider what life would be like if we could just set back time. It really would be convenient! Since we can't turn back time, each action we take should be measured, not unlike the advice found in Kipling's poem to his son.novo 7.

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sugandhiviswanathan | High School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted April 23, 2012 at 6:39 AM (Answer #8)

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Time is a tyrant and is ‘unforgiving’. It does not show mercy for one who goes about wasting it. The poet is only reminding man that time once lost can never be regained and and time does not allow one to go to the past to correct/redo actions. Every second of a minute must be utilized properly.

But the poet does not talk about 'learnings' one gets from a mistake committed in the past. 

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johndennehy | eNotes Newbie

Posted February 20, 2010 at 7:52 PM (Answer #9)

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I know this isn't strictly answering the question but for what it's worth: I recently ran a marathon and for the last two miles those two lines of "If" kept going through my head. I like the answers published but at the time the unforgiving minute and 60 secods worth of distance run were very clear.

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lilly5 | eNoter

Posted September 20, 2012 at 11:08 AM (Answer #12)

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Just my 2 cents and I have heard this poem for over 50 years now. My dad knew it by heart. The paragraph and poem is about keeping pace with your fellow man, never be to big, nor be too small. In this paragraph, if you can fill the unforgiving minute is in conjunction with sixty seconds worth of a distant run. To me it says if you can take the negative minute and turn it into a positive with as much energy as you would a minutes worth of a long distant run.... you have put in as much effort as possible.

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