To what is Rudyard Kipling referring when he pens the phrase "unforgiving minutes" in the poem "If"?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of Rudyard Kipling's most well-known poems, "If" is a homage to those who rise above their circumstances and make the extra effort to do the right thing, confident in their ability to prevail over adversity.  It's about going through life with the right attitude and not letting others drag you down to their level.  It is these sentiments that have made it a classic of Western literature.

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too...
Or being hated, don't give way to hating...

"If" is a poem that inspires individuals when they are confronted by doubt, or face a fork in the road and are tempted to take the path of least resistance.  

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.

When Kipling uses the phrase "unforgiving minute," he is alluding, as throughout the poem, to the difficulties to which all men are subjected, and the value in trying one's hardest to prevail.