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White Man's Burden

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White Man's Burden

For the book by William Easterly, see William Easterly.
"White Man's Burden" redirects here. For the 1995 film, see White Man's Burden (film).

"The White Man's Burden" is a poem by the English poet Rudyard Kipling.

It was originally published in the popular magazine McClure's in 1899, with the subtitle The United States and the Philippine Islands.[1] The poem was originally written for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, but exchanged for "Recessional"; Kipling changed the text of "Burden" to reflect the subject of American colonization of the Philippines, recently won from Spain in the Spanish-American War.[2] The poem consists of seven stanzas, following a regular rhyme scheme. At face value it appears to be a rhetorical command to white men to colonise and rule other nations for the benefit of those people (both the people and the duty may be seen as representing the "burden" of the title).

Although Kipling's poem mixed exhortation to empire with somber warnings of the costs involved, imperialists within the United States Of America understood the phrase "white man's burden" as a characterization for imperialism that justified the policy as a noble enterprise.[3][4][5][6][7] Because of its theme and title, it has become emblematic both of Eurocentric racism and of Western aspirations to dominate the developing world.[8][9][10] A century after its publication, the poem still rouses strong emotions, and can be analyzed from a variety of perspectives.

The poem

Original title : "The White Man's Burden: The United States and The Philippine Islands"[11][12]

Take up the White Man's burden, Send forth the best ye breed
  Go bind your sons to exile To serve your captives' need;
To wait in heavy harness, On fluttered folk and wild--
  Your new-caught, sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child.

Take up the White Man's burden, In patience to abide,
  To veil the threat of terror And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple, An hundred times made plain
  To seek another's profit, And work another's gain.

Take up the White Man's burden, The savage wars of peace--
  Fill full the mouth of Famine And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest The end for others sought,
  Watch sloth and heathen Folly Bring all your hopes to nought.

Take up the White Man's burden, No tawdry rule of kings,
  But toil of serf and sweeper, The tale of common things.
The ports ye shall not enter, The roads ye shall not tread,
  Go mark them with your living, And mark them with your dead.

Take up the White Man's burden And reap his old reward:
  The blame of those ye better, The hate of those ye guard--
The cry of hosts ye humour (Ah, slowly!) toward the light:--
  "Why brought he us from bondage, Our loved Egyptian night?"

Take up the White Man's burden, Ye dare not stoop to less--
  Nor call too loud on Freedom To cloke your weariness;
By all ye cry or whisper, By all ye leave or do,
  The silent, sullen peoples Shall weigh your gods and you.

Take up the White Man's burden, Have done with childish days--
  The lightly proferred laurel, The easy, ungrudged praise.
Comes now, to search your manhood, through all the thankless years
  Cold, edged with dear-bought wisdom, The judgment of your peers!

Differing interpretations

One view proposes that white people have an obligation to rule over, and encourage the cultural development of people from other cultural backgrounds until they can take their place in the world economically and socially. The term "the white man's burden" has been interpreted by some as racist, or possibly taken as a metaphor for a condescending view of undeveloped national culture and economic traditions, identified as a sense of European ascendancy which has been called "cultural imperialism". An alternative interpretation is the philanthropic view, common in Kipling's formative years, that the rich (whites) have a moral duty and obligation to help "the poor" (coloureds) "better" themselves whether the poor (coloureds) want the help or not.[13]

On the face of it, the poem conveys a positive view of the idea that "The White Man", generally accepted to mean the colonial powers (Great Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Holland, Denmark, Germany, Russia, Italy and the United States), had a duty to civilize the more brutish and barbaric parts of the world. It begins by describing the colonized Filipinos as "new-caught, sullen peoples, half devil and half child". Although a belief in the virtues of empire was widespread at the time, there were also many dissenters; the publication of the poem caused a flurry of arguments from both sides, most notably from Mark Twain and Henry James.[14] While Kipling may have intended the piece as a form of satire, much of Kipling's other writing does suggest that he genuinely believed in the "beneficent role" which the introduction of Western ideas could play in lifting non-Western peoples out of poverty and ignorance. [15] [16] Lines 3–5, and other parts of the poem suggest that it is not just the native people who are held in captivity, but also the "functionaries of empire", who are caught in colonial service and may die while helping other races less fortunate than themselves (hence "burden").

An analysis focused on the social status and background of colonial officers active at the time is lacking; as is one of the Christian missionary movement, also quite active at the time in parts of the world under colonial rule (e.g. the Christian and Missionary Alliance) which also emphasised the theme of aiding those less fortunate. Several authors note that Kipling offered the poem to Theodore Roosevelt to help persuade many doubting Americans to seize the Philippines.[17][18] His work with regards to British colonialism in India had become widely popular in the United States. The poem could be viewed as a way for Kipling to share the virtues of British colonialism with Americans. In September 1898 Kipling wrote to Roosevelt, stating 'Now go in and put all the weight of your influence into hanging on permanently to the whole Philippines. America has gone and stuck a pickaxe into the foundations of a rotten house and she is morally bound to build the house over again from the foundations or have it fall about her ears'.[19] He forwarded the poem to Roosevelt in November of the same year, just after Roosevelt was elected Governor of New York.

The Norton Anthology of English Literature argues the poem is in line with Kipling's strong imperialism and a belief of a "Divine Burden to reign God's Empire on Earth." [2] According to Steve Sailer, however, writer John Derbyshire has described Kipling as "an imperialist utterly without illusions about what being an imperialist actually means. Which, in some ways, means that he was not really an imperialist at all."[20]

Literary response to poem

Several parodies and other forms of critical works have used themes or quotes collected from Kipling's poem. Early examples include

Ernest Crosby wrote a poem, "The Real White Man’s Burden" (1902).[23]

E. D. Morel, a British journalist in the Congo Free State, drew attention to the brutality of imperialism in 1903. His article, "The Black Man's Burden"[24] was published in 1903. In another article, also entitled "The Black Man's Burden,"[25] he describes his view of both the White and Black Man's Burdens.[26]

West-Indian American writer Hubert Harrison's response is entitled "The Black Man's Burden."[27] from When Africa Awakes was published in New York in 1920.[28]

A far later parody is "Le Sanglot de l'Homme blanc" ("The White Man's Tears") by French writer Pascal Bruckner.

See also


  1. . Full text of a novel by Thomas Dixon praising the Ku Klux Klan, published online by The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


  • A Companion to Victorian Poetry, Alison Chapman; Blackwell, Oxford, 2002.
  • Chisholm, Michael (1982). Modern World Development: A Geographical Perspective. Rowman & Littlefield, 1982, ISBN 0-389-20320-3.
  • Cody, David. The growth of the British Empire. The Victorian Web, University Scholars Program, National University of Singapore, November 2000.
  • Crosby, Ernest (1902). The Real White Man’s Burden. Funk and Wagnalls Company, 32–35.
  • Dixon, Thomas (1902). The Leopard's Spots – A Romance of the White Man's Burden 1865–1900.
  • Encyclopedia of India. Ed. Stanley Wolpert. Vol. 3. Detroit: charles Scribner's Sons, 2006, p. 35-36. 4 vols.
  • "Eurocentrism". In Encyclopedia of the Developing World. Ed. Thomas M. Leonard, Taylor & Francis, 2006, ISBN 0-415-97662-6.
  • Greenblatt, Stephen (ed.). Norton Anthology of English Literature, New York 2006 ISBN 0-393-92532-3
  • Kipling. Fordham University. Full text of the poem.
  • Labouchère, Henry (1899). "The Brown Man's Burden".
  • Mama, Amina (1995). Beyond the Masks: Race, Gender, and Subjectivity. Routledge, 1995, ISBN 0-415-03544-9.
  • Miller, Stuart Creighton (1982). Benevolent Assimilation: The American Conquest of the Philippines, 1899–1903. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-03081-9.
  • Pimentel, Benjamin (October 26, 2003). "The Philippines; "Liberator" Was Really a Colonizer; Bush's revisionist history". The San Francisco Chronicle: D3.
  • Sailer, Steve (2001). "What Will Happen In Afghanistan?". United Press International, 26 September 2001.
  • "The White Man's Burden." McClure's Magazine 12 (Feb. 1899).
  • "The Shining" Jack Nicholson's character Jack, uses the phrase to refer to whiskey.

External links

  • Fordham University

Template:Rudyard Kipling

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