In February 1899, British novelist and poet Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem entitled “The White Man’s Burden: The United States and The Philippine Islands.” In this poem, Kipling urged the U.S. to take up the “burden” of empire, as had Britain and other European nations. Published in the February, 1899 issue of McClure’s Magazine, the poem coincided with the beginning of the Philippine-American War and U.S. Senate ratification of the treaty that placed Puerto Rico, Guam, Cuba, and the Philippines under American control. Theodore Roosevelt, soon to become vice-president and then president, copied the poem and sent it to his friend, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, commenting that it was “rather poor poetry, but good sense from the expansion point of view.” Not everyone was as favorably impressed as Roosevelt. The racialized notion of the “White Man’s burden” became a euphemism for imperialism, and many anti-imperialists couched their opposition in reaction to the phrase.
Poetry played a much larger role in the intellectual life of Americans in the 19th Century, and for many, this poem would have been just as, or even more effective than an article arguing the same point. If you want to understand a culture, understanding their arts is very useful. To that end, this assignment will have you analyze the poem.
“The White Man’s Burden: The United States and The Philippine Islands”
Take up the White Man’s burden—
Send forth the best ye breed—
Go send 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—
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) to the light:
“Why brought ye us from bondage,
“Our loved Egyptian night?”
Take up the White Man’s burden-
Have done with childish days-
The lightly proffered 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!
Source: Rudyard Kipling, “The White Man’s Burden: The United States & The Philippine Islands, 1899.” Rudyard Kipling’s Verse: Definitive Edition (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1929).
1. Identify the major themes that the author uses in the poem.
2. To the best of your knowledge, which of those themes would impact the 1899 reader the most? Why do you think so?
3. What is your reaction to the poem? What about our society/your experience do you think brings you to that reaction?
There is no minimum word count that you need to reach for this assignment, but you need to demonstrate that you have thought deeply about the questions and your answers. There is no right answer for the second and third questions, but you need to make the case that your answer is a good one. They cannot be answered adequately in one or two sentences. Each question is worth a third of your overall grade for the assignment.
You can see the rubric by clicking on the submission link and looking in the upper left, or by clicking on the following link –>GRADING RUBRIC
Tuning Learning Outcomes:
1:3, 1:4, 1:5, 2:5, 2:6, 3:2, 5:1, 5:4, 6:3