This is certainly a very controversial poem. The writer views the imperialized people as devoid of wisdom and true purpose in life.
In the poem, the writer states that the white man's efforts will be met with little appreciation. He laments that the white man's burden consists of thankless work: the task of supposedly freeing the imperialized people from their ignorance and spiritual degradation, which is met with "blame," "hate," and the "cry of hosts."
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?”
The writer views the imperialized people as helpless and needy creatures who need to be saved from themselves. He seems utterly convinced that the latter are hybrid creatures, both diabolical and naive in nature ("half devil and half child"). The writer admits that saving the imperialized people from themselves will be a difficult undertaking. However, he maintains that the white man must persevere in his efforts. He must put aside his desire for "The lightly proffered laurel, / The easy, ungrudged praise" and instead, pursue the thankless work of reforming a backward people.
Certainly, the poem is at once insulting as well as eye-opening.
The writer's attitudes were common for his time. The work of imperializing the Third World was considered a genuine mission of mercy, one that sought "another's profit" and worked "another's gain." This poem, although controversial, reveals a rationale behind European empire-building.