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.
In the first stanza, Kipling introduces what he views to be the duty of all Western colonial powers: to “Take up the White Man’s burden” and bring the people of their colonies to Western civilization and Christianity. Kipling’s language is, of course, greatly problematic to the modern reader and creates a troubling picture of how white Anglo-American audiences viewed native peoples of other parts of the world.
The paternalistic attitude of the speaker is exemplified in the ways he describes indigenous peoples. Like children, they are “sullen,” which suggests petty or stubborn resistance, as if rejecting the assistance of a parent who only wants the best for them. Meanwhile, their non-Christian religions are implied in the use of the word “devil.” At the same time, the white man, who is manfully and dutifully struggling under the weight of his “burden,” is painted as the servant, working for the “profit” and “need” of those who will not, at first, appreciate his assistance or involvement.
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?”
The “blame,” “hate,” and “cry” of those they are attempting to “humour . . . towards the light” will be the initial reward of the US and other colonial powers. Kipling does not shrink from the idea that colonization and imperialism can, particularly at first, be frustrating and lead to many hardships. However, he suggests, it is vital that the US take up this burden anyway—he warns a stanza later, “ye dare not stoop to less.”
By including a...
(The entire section is 453 words.)