Learning check

1. Vocabulary

No study aids

What are the following words used to describe?



fluttered, wild, sullen, half-devil, half-child, sloth, heathen folly, silent


serve, wait on, seek another’s profit, work another’s gain, fill full the mouth of famine/bid the sickness cease, seek the end for others, to better, make them with your living, mark them with your dead, to guard


heavy harness, the savage war of peace, no tawdry rule of kings/but toil of serf and sweeper, blame, hate, weariness, thankless


patience, check the show of pride, open, simple, plain


Wider contexts

1. Historical context: historical background

Use the internet to find out about the historical background which prompted Kipling to write the poem. Does this add to your understanding of the poem?

You may find the following link useful: http://www1.assumption.edu/users/mcclymer/His130/P-H/burden/default.html


Wider contexts

2. Literary contexts: Other media: illustrations

  1. Other media: illustrations

a) Work in pairs. One student gets illustration A. below, the other one gets illustration B. below. Do not let your partner see your illustration. Student A describes his/her illustration so that student B can make a drawing of it. Compare your drawing with the original. Change roles.

b) Compare the two illustrations below.

c) Which one do you find best illustrates Kipling’s poem?


A. The White Man's Burden

White_mans_burden_the_journal_detroit (1)

The Journal, Detroit, 1898


B. The White Man's Burden


Life magazine, 1899 (The cartoon depicts the figures of Uncle Sam (a common national personification of the American government), John Bull (a national personification of Britain) and Kaiser Wilhelm (German Emperor) as three heavy burdens being carried on the backs of non-white people.)


Wider contexts

3. Reception: Senator Tillman, David Cody and Wikipedia

1. Read the following comments on “The White Man’s Burden”. In groups

a) account for the different views expressed

b) discuss which one comes closest to your interpretation.


A. From a speech made by Senator Benjamin Tillman of South Carolina, an opponent of the U.S. decision to annex the Philippines. February 7, 1899:

 “As though coming at the most opportune time possible, you might say just before the treaty* […] reached the Senate, or about the time it was sent to us, there appeared in one of our magazines a poem by Rudyard Kipling, the greatest poet of England at this time. This poem, unique, and in some places too deep for me, is a prophecy. I do not imagine that in the history of human events any poet has ever felt inspired so clearly to portray our danger and our duty. It is called "The White Man's Burden." With the permission of Senators I will read a stanza, and I beg Senators to listen to it, for it is well worth their attention. This man has lived in the Indies. In fact, he is a citizen of the world, and has been all over it, and knows whereof he speaks. […]

with five exceptions every man in this chamber who has had to do with the colored race in this country voted against the ratification of the treaty. It was . . . because we understand and realize what it is to have two races side by side that can not mix or mingle without deterioration and injury to both and the ultimate destruction of the civilization of the higher. We of the South have borne this white man's burden of a colored race in our midst since their emancipation and before.

It was a burden upon our manhood and our ideas of liberty before they were emancipated. It is still a burden.”

*[with Spain that gave up sovereignty over the Philippines in return for $20,000,000]


B. From David Cody, The growth of the British Empire:


 “One view proposes that white people consequently have an obligation to rule over, and encourage the cultural development of people from other ethnic and cultural backgrounds until they can take their place in the world by fully adopting Western ways. The term "the white man's burden" has been interpreted as racist, or taken as a metaphor for a condescending view of non-Western 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 have a moral duty and obligation to help "the poor" "better" themselves whether the poor want the help or not.”


conde’scending nedladende

ascendancy magt, overlegenhed, indflydelse

philanthropic menneskekærlig


C. From Wikipedia:

 “Some commentators do not believe that this poem's simplistic racist views can be serious and point to Kipling's history of satirical writing, suggesting that "The White Man's Burden" is in fact meant to parody imperialist attitudes. Chris Snodgrass, in A Companion to Victorian Poetry, describes Kipling's poetry as "imperial sensibilities with wry irony and skepticism, viewing all human endeavors as ultimately transitory”.


wry  skæv, bitter

en’deavor stræben

transitory forbigående



Wider contexts

4. Intertextual context: "The Brown Man's Burden" (1899) and "The Real White Man's Burden" (1902)

Read “The Brown Man’s Burden” (1899) by Henry Labouchère and “The Real White Man’s Burden” (1902) by Ernest Crosby and compare form and content with the original. What is achieved by using Kipling’s poem in this way?

a) Henry Du Pré Labouchère (1831-1912) was an English politician, writer and publisher. He was a junior member of the British diplomatic service, a Member of Parliament in the 1860s and again from 1880 to 1906. He was quite wealthy and edited and funded his own magazine. “The Brown Man’s Burden” was written in 1899.


The Brown Man’s Burden

Pile on the brown man's burden              pile on  øge, vælte mere over på
To gratify your greed;                              ‘gratify  tilfredsstille
Go, clear away the "niggers"
Who progress would impede;                  im’pede  hindre, besværliggøre
Be very stern, for truly                             stern  hard, streng
'Tis useless to be mild
With new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child.

Pile on the brown man's burden;
And, if ye rouse his hate,                         ye = you   rouse  vække
Meet his old-fashioned reasons
With Maxims up to date.                          Maxim  et bestemt maskingeværmærke
With shells and dumdum bullets              shell   granat
A hundred times made plain                    dumdum bullet  a bullet that breaks into           
The brown man's loss must ever                                         many pieces when it hits somebody
Imply the white man's gain.                     imply  medføre

Pile on the brown man's burden,
compel him to be free;
Let all your manifestoes
Reek with philanthropy.                           reek  stinke  philantrophy  velgørenhed,
And if with heathen folly
He dares your will dispute,                       dispute  modsættte sig
Then, in the name of freedom,
Don't hesitate to shoot.

Pile on the brown man's burden,
And if his cry be sore,                              sore  smertelig, hæs
That surely need not irk you--                   irk  genere
Ye've driven slaves before.                        ye've  you have
Seize on his ports and pastures,                seize on  bemægtige sig   port  havn             
The fields his people tread;                      pasture  græsgang
Go make from them your living,
And mark them with his dead.

Pile on the brown man's burden,
Nor do not deem it hard                          deem  dømme
If you should earn the rancor                   ‘rancor  had, bitterhed
Of those ye yearn to guard.                     yearn  længes efter
The screaming of your Eagle                    Eagle  on the American one dollar coin
Will drown the victim's sob--                   sob  hulken
Go on through fire and slaughter.
There's dollars in the job.

Pile on the brown man's burden,
And through the world proclaim             proclaim  bekendtgøre
That ye are Freedom's agent--
There's no more paying game!
And, should your own past history
Straight in your teeth be thrown,             throw something in one’s teeth  bebrejde én noget
Retort that independence                         re´tort  svar
Is good for whites alone.

Pile on the brown man's burden,
With equity have done;                            ´equity  retfærdighed
Weak, antiquated scruples                       ´antiquated  forældet, gammeldags
Their squeamish course have run,             squeamish  pivet, sart,
And, though 'tis freedom's banner
You're waving in the van,                        van  fortrop
Reserve for home consumption                consumption  indtagelse, fortæring
The sacred "rights of man"!

And if by chance ye falter,                        falter  tøve, vakle
Or lag along the course,                           lag  komme bagud
If, as the blood flows freely,
Ye feel some slight remorse,                     remorse  anger
Hie ye to Rudyard Kipling,                         hie  ile, haste
Imperialism's prop,                                   prop  støtte
And bid him, for your comfort,
Turn on his jingo stop.                              jingo  krigsgal, chauvenistisk

                            stop  støjende budskab


b) Ernest Howard Crosby (1856-1907) was an American author and pacifist. He was a member of the State Assembly (1887-1889) and became inspired by the Russian Count Tolstoy’s ideas of universal peace. He was president of the Anti-Imperialist League of New York until 1904 and satirically mocked war and militancy. Ernest Crosby wrote his parody of Kipling’s work, “The Real White Man’s Burden”, and published it in his 1902 collection of poems Swords and Plowshares.



The Real White Man's Burden

Take up the White Man's burden;
Send forth your sturdy sons,                    sturdy  robust, hårdfør
And load them down with whisky
And Testaments and guns …

And don't forget the factories.
On those benighted shores                       benighted  uvidende, uoplyst
They have no cheerful iron-mills               mill  fabrik, værk
Nor eke department stores.                       Nor eke  (her) heller ikke
They never work twelve hours a day,
And live in strange content,
Altho they never have to pay                     altho = although
A single cent of rent.

Take up the White Man's burden,
And teach the Philippines
What interest and taxes are                        interest  rente
And what a mortgage means.                    mortgage  pant, lån
Give them electrocution chairs,
And prisons, too, galore,                          galore  i massevis
And if they seem inclined to kick,
Then spill their heathen gore.                   heathen  hedensk         gore  blod

They need our labor question, too,
And politics and fraud,                            fraud  bedrag
We've made a pretty mess at home;
Let's make a mess abroad.
And let us ever humbly pray
The Lord of Hosts may deign                  Lord of Hosts  reference to God   deign  nedlade sig til

To stir our feeble memories,                   stir  bevæge,opfriske               feeble  svag
Lest we forget -- the Maine.                    the Maine  a battleship that was sunk in Havana Harbour

                                                                                in 1898 which contributed to the start of the Spanish-                                                                                American War over Cuban Independence

Take up the White Man's burden;
To you who thus succeed
In civilizing savage hordes
They owe a debt, indeed;
Concessions, pensions, salaries,               concession  skattelettelse
And privilege and right,
With outstretched hands you raise to bless
Grab everything in sight.

Take up the White Man's burden,
And if you write in verse,
Flatter your Nation's vices                       flatter  smigre        vice  last, fejl
And strive to make them worse.
Then learn that if with pious words         ‘pious  from
You ornament each phrase,                      ‘ornament  udsmykke
In a world of canting hypocrites              canting  fulde af floskler