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AlbertJayNock

The Unforgiving Minute

The title comes, as most readers probably know, from Rudyard Kipling's If, specifically the lines

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds worth of distance run



It's an excellent metaphor. Each minute of life, once it has passed, goes away and doesn't come back.There is no second chance to make better use of it. Squandering of time is not forgiven.

It's interesting to speculate how Kipling might have come up with the phrase. One can imagine him writing
 
 
If you can fill each minute
 With sixty seconds worth of distance run



I've put the stressed syllables in bold. If Kipling had written this, he would have noted that the first line only has three iambs. Two more are needed. He could have flailed around trying to find all kinds of adjectives or modifiers until he discovered that

the unforgiving minute


fit perfectly.

I've heard it said that one of the advantages of prosody is that it forces you to consider words you might not have otherwise considered. Perhaps If , in addition to having wise advice about life, also illustrates the wonderful metaphors you'll discover while trying to satisfy the constraints of rhyme and iambic pentameter.


fit perfectly

Comments

That is an amazing argument for iambic pentameter. I still think one must be as gifted as Kipling to effectively use iambic pentameter without sounding like a nursery rhyme, though!