Kipling’s Controversial Poem “The White Man’s Burden”

The White Man’s Burden


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 make 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 !) towards the light:-
“Why brought ye 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 cloak your weariness;
By all ye cry or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent sullen peoples
Shall weigh your Gods[1] and you.

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.

[1] “Gods” originally God. See Mary Hamer’s Notes at

“The White Man’sBurden” (1899)

Publication historyThe Times, 4 February 1899; Literature, 4 February 1899; New York Tribune, 5 February 1899; San Francisco Examiner 5 February 1899; the New York Sun 5 February 1899; Daily Mail, 6 February 1899; McClure’s Magazine, February 1899; in a small pamphlet of the Anti-Imperialist League from The Boston Evening Transcript, 18 February 1899.
Also in A Kipling Pageant, 1935. Collected in The Five Nations, I.V., 1919, D.V., 1940, the Sussex Edition, vol.33 and the Burwash Edition, vol.26.

For Contextual Understanding See Important Notes:


The White Man’s Burden
Notes by Mary Hamer

2. Rudyard Kipling and the British Empire 
by Igor Burnashov, the Kazak National University

excerpt below

“The empire existed to civilise and uplift its subjects, or so its champions claimed. One of the first most clear-cut vision of the British imperial destiny had been given by John Ruskin in his 1870 inaugural lecture at Oxford: “There is a destiny now possible to us, the highest ever set before a nation to be accepted or refused. Will you youth of England make your country again a royal throne of kings, a sceptred isle, for all the world a source of light, a centre of peace and mistress of learning, and of the Arts, faithful guardian of time tried principles?”. (8).

The concept of “Anglo-Saxon manhood” had been very popular in the epoch of the British new imperialism (the notion appeared at the end of XIXth century and was based on the idea of developed nations’ superiority – in this case the English nation). It was an abstraction compounded in equal parts of patriotism, physical toughness, skill at team games, a sense of fair play (sometimes called ‘sportsmanship’), self-discipline, selflessness, bravery and daring.

Returning to The White Man’s Burden one can take into account the fact that this poem is devoted to substantiation of the British and American imperial duty and Divine Providence abroad. According to Kipling, “the whites’ burden” is the subjugation of inferior races for their own sake, not robbery and violence but constructive labour and purity of thought, not arrogant complacency but humility and toleration. In the poem these are the next lines: “Take up the White Man’s burden- / Send forth the best ye breed – / Go bind your sons to ex-ile / 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”. (9). The White Man’s Burden depicts the advantages of the British Empire and the positive side of imperialism. By writing phrases like “fill full the mouth of famine” and asking to “serve [their] captives’ need(s)”, Kipling points out the responsibility of England towards its colonies. At the same time this poem brought upon Kipling the title of a racist. But because in this verse he repeatedly emphasizes the injustice in rightfully regarding one superior to another on the basis of race or origin, he is far from having the qualities of a racist. Kipling’s belief that England needs to keep on supporting and providing for the colonies, arises from his belief that providing independence to colonies at this point of time would lead to their ruin. Kipling also depicts the need for sending forth the best of men to serve the needs of England. And not only to serve but, if necessary, to die for the British Empire, to become a Christian hero and Christian gentleman:“The ports ye shall not enter, / The roads ye shall not tread, / Go make them with your living, / And mark them with your dead”.(10).
In summarising the material on The White Man’s Burden the author would like to emphasize that Kipling’s imperialism and colonialism in this poem should not be considered as only anti-human. Kipling here shows imperialism in all its contradictoriness and appears before us as “the responsible imperialist”. What is more important Kipling had definitely been the Apostle of Empire, he lived in imperial times and breathed with an imperial air and smell; but simultaneously he is the enthusiastic imperialist and the educator. We can also affirm that any of the imperialists’ kind of misdeeds and wrongdoings (like tortures of the locals, and more) is their punishment and at the same time their creative labour in the name of the Empire and the possible death in remote countries is their repentance and vindication. These tendencies are inextricably intertwined and go in parallel in this poem. The European usurpers considered themselves to be superior to the indigenous people, to be sure, but they did not alter the identity of the peoples they encountered, they wanted to possess riches, not souls. Once again, Kipling is one of a few who was able to analyse this process and who was part of it, and in this is his great enigma and genius.


For an overview of the context and controversy surrounding this poem, please see the following Notable Biographies and Wikipedia articles.  Be advised, however, that these sources are not considered a scholarly, because they do not list the authors’ names or credentials.  You will need to use the sources provided above or track down the original sources cited in these articles in order  cite information found here in a scholarly essay.’s_Burden









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