Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936)
Prof. Florence Boos points out that “the British had fought several “wars” of conquest in Africa, including a Zulu war in which natives overran a British army with spears. In the 1890s, the British – motivated by the desire to control territory near the Suez Canal – authorized an expeditionary force to conquer the Sudan. Britain remained in control of the region until 1956” in her study questions.
- Who is the poem’s speaker? Why would Kipling have chosen him to represent British presence in the Nile region?
- The term “Fuzzy-Wuzzy” refers to the Sudanese Hadandoa tribesmen of the upper Nile, who charged into battle with their hair arranged to look as fearsome as possible. What is the effect of the speaker’s use of this term? Of his reference to his enemy in the singular?
- What do we know about the speaker from his use of language?
- What attitudes are ascribed to the speaker as he says, “We’ll come an’ ‘have romp with you whenever you’re inclined”? What other attitudes seemingly appropriate for a British soldier does he exhibit?
- On what grounds does the speaker respect his enemy? Are the Hadandoa expected to successfully defend their homeland? What are the implications of praising the tribesmen for breaking “a British square” (a reference to the victory of the Sudanese in the battle of Tamai, 1884)?
- How do the poem’s stanza form and rhythms convey or complement its meaning?
- In reading this poem, what attitude toward the issue of imperialist wars is the Victorian reader expected to take?
- What are implications of the poem’s title? A recessional is a hymn or solemn musical piece at the conclusion of a service or program.
- Who is the poem’s speaker? What effect is created by the fact that the poem is a prayer?
- To what “verities” and past historical events does the poem allude in the first stanza? What relationship does the “Lord of Hosts” have to the British Empire?
- What does the speaker predict will be the fate of the British empire? What does he fear will be forgotten?
- In stanza 4, what dreaded fate does the speaker fear will overtake the British? In this context, who are the “Gentiles,” and “lesser breeds without the Law”? Is this law political or religious?
- What are the “reeking tube and iron shard”? For what do the speaker’s people require mercy?
- Who are the “People” of the poem’s final line? What is the poem’s final tone? What is its view of the nature and value of the “imperial project”?
The White Man’s Burden
Originally, Kipling began this poem to commemorate Queen Victoria’s 60th jubilee in 1897, but he abandoned it, later taking it up again as a response to events that led to the Spanish-American War in 1899.
- According to Kipling, and in your own words, what was the “White Man’s Burden”?
- What reward did Kipling suggest the “White Man” get for carrying his “burden”?
- Who did Kipling think would read his poem? What do you think that this audience might have said in response to it? Look up McClure’s Magazine online.
- Read the original publication of the poem in McClure’s Magazine. Be sure to download pages 290 and 291 for the full poem.
- Next, read two parodies of Kipling’s poem: George McNeill, “The Poor Man’s Burden” and H.T. Johnson, “The Black Man’s Burden“.
- For what audiences do you think McNeill and Johnson wrote their poems? How do you think those audiences might have responded to “The Black Man’s Burden” and “The Poor Man’s Burden”?
Watch the following video: