The composition of “The White Man’s Burden” by Rudyard Kipling tells us that the poem is comprised of seven stanzas that explore the challenges faced by the White Man as he attempts to civilise the natives in the lands he colonises. The poem's title suggests the White Man has a moral responsibility to better the lives of native peoples.

The speaker acts as an observer who characterises the White Man and the colonised peoples and also explores their relationship. The other characters in the poem include the White Man and the colonised peoples.

The setting suggests that the White Man is taking on a very difficult task when colonising others. The poem depicts the lands the White Man is colonising and its mark on them, also suggesting a tense atmosphere.

The poem was written using formal English, using complex language that is generally difficult to understand and may seem old-fashioned today due to the age of the poem. Kipling also uses figurative language to enhance his message and give the poem greater impact. The poem follows a traditional rhyme and rhythm pattern, which makes it resemble a hymn.

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Further help

Poem analysis

For more advice about analysing poems, you can read our general guide to poetry analysis.