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Last Updated on September 11, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 433

Introduction

English writer Rudyard Kipling originally composed “The White Man’s Burden” in 1897 for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. At this event, Victoria was celebrated as empress of India and defender of an empire which stretched around the globe. However, Kipling ultimately chose a different poem for the Jubilee and published “The White Man’s Burden” in 1899. He was inspired to do so by the events of the Spanish-American War and titled it “The White Man’s Burden: The United States and the Philippine Islands.” This time, Kipling’s intended audience was the United States; when the US defeated Spain, the Philippine archipelago was one of the Spanish territories that the US gained. In the poem, Kipling urges American colonizers to create an empire similar to that of the British, citing it as the duty of “the White Man.”

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Poem Summary

The poem commences with the exhortation that begins each stanza: “Take up the White Man’s burden.” In the first and second stanzas, the speaker calls upon his audience—the US and other Western powers—to send their children into “exile” in these faraway parts of the world. He states that the white man is duty-bound to act as a servant to his new captives, who are described as “half devil and half child.” In the second stanza, he implies that in colonizing the native peoples of far-off continents, the white man is actually working for their “gain.” 

In the third and fourth stanzas, the speaker calls upon the US to venture into these other countries in order to put an end to sickness and war. He informs them that the fulfillment of their...

(The entire section contains 433 words.)

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Themes