What is the meaning of the third verse of Rudyard Kipling's "The White Man's Burden" (1899)?Take up the White Man's burden -- The savage wars of peace- Fill full the mouth of Famine And bid the...

What is the meaning of the third verse of Rudyard Kipling's "The White Man's Burden" (1899)?

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 you goal is nearest

The end for others sought,

Watch sloth and heathen Folly

Bring all your hopes to nought.

Asked on by swimgirl7

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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As with the rest of this poem, the third verse is a warning to the United States about what it can expect when it takes the Philippines and tries to administer it as a colony.  In this verse, Kipling is focusing on the idea that the colonized people will destroy everything that the colonizers are working for.

Kipling starts by warning that it will take “savage wars” to bring peace to the new colony.  This was true in the Philippines as the US and Filipino independence fighters fought a brutal war. 

Kipling then goes on to say that the colonizers will do all sorts of philanthropic things.  They will help the colonized do better at producing enough food to feed themselves (fill full the mouth of Famine).  They will bring better health and hygiene to the people they colonize.  But then, when they are getting close to making everything better, the colonized people will ruin everything.  They will do this because they are lazy (sloth) and because they are uneducated, uncivilized, and perhaps stupid (heathen Folly).

As with the rest of the poem, this is an attitude that we would see today as racist.  Kipling definitely glorifies the motives of the colonizers and denigrates the colonized.

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