The White Man’s Burden By Rudyard Kipling | Contents, Summary, Structure, Poetic Techniques and Stanzas

The White Man’s Burden Analysis: The poem was published in The Times (London) in 1899. It is still today considered a controversial poem in English literature. It is essential to consider Kipling’s motivation behind writing ‘The White Man’s Burden’ from a perspective. Kipling originally wrote this poem to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1987.

In the poem, Kipling defined white imperialism and colonialism in moral terms and regarded the “burden” as something that the white race must take to help the non-white race develop their civilisations. The poem played a key role in some debates about whether America should annex the Philippines island after the great American- Spanish war.

Students can also check the English Summary to revise with them during exam preparation.

Rudyard Kipling’s main motive behind composing this poem is that he saw the non-white races as nonsensical savages in their own ways. Thus, he wanted to civilise the people to make the world a better place with civilised human beings and not just a place with many insensible civilisations.

Contents of The White Man’s Burden Analysis

  1. Summary of The White Man’s Burden.
  2. Structure of The White Man’s Burden.
  3. Poetic Techniques used in The White Man’s Burden.
  4. Analysis of The White Man’s Burden.

The White Man's Burden Summary

Summary of The White Man’s Burden

The speaker describes the white men as the most civilised and superior to the other non-white races and emphasizes it. The speaker also says that the non-white races, non-Christian people are foolish and savage. According to him, the white men will control the non-white races and protect them from their enemies by fighting cruel wars.

And if they think of rewards, it would only be spite and blame because the non-whites loved their savage lifestyle way better and would not want any men of other races to snatch away their savage habits. Rudyard Kipling has described the non-whites as irresponsible, “half devil”, “half child” and flighty natives.

The poem’s stanzas describe how the selfless white men will keep on trying to civilise the non-whites even though they will continuously receive baskets of hatred and blame in return. Progressing to each stanza, we find that Rudyard Kipling implores tasks on the white men and that too difficult ones.

He tells them to be hardworking like the harnessed horses who work for their masters under strict and difficult orders. He also reminds them that though this arduous task will come to an end someday, the civilisations would not realise then and there the good that has been done for them- they would not be able to acknowledge in return; it would take them years to realise what they came out of.

The White Man’s Burden Analysis Structure

The poem consists of seven stanzas which have eight lines each. It has been crafted diligently with the use of simple language, which is quite easy to understand and is at an advantage of memorising the lines quickly. The lines of the poem rhyme in a straightforward manner- ABCBDEFE.

The poem is tensely structured with the use of literary/ rhetorical devices. The metrical pattern of the poem is taken into extreme concern and is regulated. Due to such a structure, the readers are obliged to think that the poem should be read out loud; it would even be better if it is chanted like a mantra- sounding loud, clear and sharp in the ears.

The poet structured the odd lines (lines like 1,3,5,7 and so on) with one amphibrach and two iambs, and the even lines (lines like 2,4,6,8, and so on) are structured in iambic trimeter. This makes even lines a little less complex in comparison to the odd lines.

An iamb is a meter that consists of two syllables where the first one remains unstressed, and the second one is stressed. Words such as “attain”, “portray” are good general examples of iamb.

An amphibrach is a metrical foot that consists of a stressed syllable between two unstressed syllables (amphibrach is much less familiar/ popular than iamb). A word like “together” is an example of an accentual amphibrach.

Iambic trimeter is a meter of poetry that consists of three iambic units per line (basically, it is a line with three iambs, resulting in six syllables). This meter is quite common in Greek tragedy and comedy as it was the meter in which most verses were spoken.

Poetic Techniques Used in The White Man’s Burden

The poet uses several poetic devices that bring out the beauty of the poem. A few of the literary devices used in the poem are alliteration, enjambment and allusion.

Alliteration is the close appearance of words in succession that starts with the same letter—an example of alliteration used in the poem- “silent, sullen” in the sixth stanza. Another example- use of the phrase “best ye breed” is an indication of the use of alliteration.

Enjambment is a poetic device that cuts short a line before its expected ending. This device makes the readers jump from one line to another very quickly. The transition between the third and fourth lines in the stanza of the poem is an example of enjambment. Another good example of enjambment used in the poem is the transition between the fifth and sixth lines in the first stanza.

An allusion is a type of expression meant to recall something particular to the reader’s mind without directly writing the phrase/ word in the line. In this poem, the poet has alluded to the Philippines- American war and colonialism but has not directly spoken of it (clear hints were intertwined in the poem).

Adding allusion to a poem makes it furthermore interesting for the readers- they often keep on deciphering the different meanings of the allusions and can intercept the poem from a completely different perspective.

The White Man's Burden Themes

Analysis of The White Man’s Burden

Stanza one

(Lines 1-4)

“Take up the White Man’s burden….

…. your captives’ need;”


The speaker calls out to the white men and says that there is a great need for them. It is required to send ‘your best sons’ to accomplish a task that is remained unfulfilled by the white men. It is made clear that there is some job waiting for the young men to complete.

Since this is a racially insensitive poem, the ‘best’ is meant for the white men. According to the poet, white men are the most superior living beings who are more civilized than any other savage, uncivilized non-white people. There are no other races of human that would fall under the category of ‘the best’ other than the mere white men who is regarded as the parent whose task is to discipline his kids.

(Lines 5-8)

“To wait in heavy harness…

…Half devil and half child.”


In the next four lines, the poet has tried to express that the white men will be working hard like harnessed horses. The wise use of the metaphor “heavy harness” brings out clearly that the men will have no rest and will work hard to civilize the non-white races of the world (the young men has been straightforwardly compared to the hardworking horses that work day and night at their master’s call).

The non-white races have not only been regarded as savages but also “half devil’ and “half-child” who has been captured like the prizes of some contest.

Stanza Two

“Take up the White Man’s burden…

…To veil the threat of terror…

…By open speech and simple,

A hundred times…

… another’s profit

And work another’s gain.”


The speaker orders the white men again. In the second verses, the poet repeats the opening line and adds details hoe white men should work. They should speak slowly, calmly, and in honest language to ensure that the savage (non-white) understands them clearly. He also tells the readers that the white men should maintain their superiority yet not be proud of it to govern well. All this would not benefit the white men but the uncivilized non-whites who would not understand the importance of white men’s rule.

Stanza three

“Take up the White Man’s burden…

…wars of peace…

…. when your goal is nearest

…Bring all your hopes to nought.”


In this stanza, the speaker, Kipling, lays out some goals for the men to attend. They would have to fight drastically in some fierce wars to protect the natives from their enemies’ hands. This would maintain peace in their land. The whites would also have to take care of the captured prizes of conquest (the non-whites) and provide them with food for the hungry and starving people and protect against diseases.

All these tasks have to be done by themselves because the non-Christian, the non-whites are foolish and lazy (termed as “sloth” and “folly” in the poem). The speaker makes the young men alarmed that they might fail but should not stop trying and must give their best efforts to civilize the foolish natives.

Stanza four

“Take up the White Man’s burden…

…The ports ye shall not enter,

The roads ye…

… with your living,

And mark them with your dead!”


The speaker again reminds the white men of the difficult task that lies ahead of them. He remarks that white men’s imperialistic duty is much more moral and common than the rule of the traditional kings and queens. The whites’ duty would be to build roads and ports for the non-whites, which the builders themselves cannot use for themselves- they would be for the welfare of the natives.

The poet even has mentioned that the task is not just about building for welfare, but they might also have to die in battles to preserve them from becoming ruined. The duty is more like something they are destined to do than some grand tasks like conquering some other kingdom.

Stanza five

“Take up the White Man’s burden—

…his old reward:

The blame of…

… “Why brought ye us from bondage,

Our loved Egyptian night?””


The speaker, in this stanza, says that the supposed rewards of the hard work the young men will do will mostly be ironic (people are foolish enough to understand their own good). Though the whites will try their best to safeguard and civilize the non-whites, they would receive “blame” and “spite” instead of everything. The whites are merely seen as parental figures who would teach and civilize their children (non-whites).

While the whites will slowly try to show them the light of civilization, they (non-whites) would shout against their teachings and cry out for “Egyptian night” (means Egyptian darkness) of the savagery they used to love enough to be unaware of the fact that they are not civilized.

Stanza six—

“Take up the White Man’s burden—

Ye dare not stoop to less—

Nor call …

…The silent, sullen peoples

Shall weigh your Gods and you.”


The men selected for the task must do it efficiently. Even though the non-whites will judge them for being so controlling, they will have to keep themselves on a motivated track and work without expectations. The non-whites someday would surely look back and find themselves in a better position because of the whites.

Stanza seven

“Take up the White Man’s burden—

Have done with childish days—

…The easy, ungrudged praise.

Comes now, to search your…

The judgment of your peers!”


The speaker implores the white men to diligently carry on their task instead of complaining about the difficulties they would have to face, achieving success by civilizing these natives. The speaker orders the white men to stop acting childish and take up more responsibilities as men.

The white audience can only prove themselves as adults only if they are focused enough to achieve the goals they previously set, even though this would reward them with respect and love long after they finish their task.