Language and style

Choice of words

The predominant verb tense is the present, and the poem frequently uses the imperative mode, as the poem is an appeal to the White Man. In the following verses, for example, the speaker orders the White Man to accept his duty as a civilising force and not look for freedom from his tiring work:

Take up the White Man’s burden –
Ye dare not stoop to less –
Nor call too loud on Freedom
To cloak your weariness (p. 263, ll. 10-13)

The poem includes verbs of action, which help enhance the speaker’s call to action, such as “take up” (p. 262, l. 1) and “make” (p. 262, l. 34). The speaker uses adjectives and adverbs to describe the colonised people and the White Man, such as “fluttered folk and wild” (p. 262, l. 6) or “tawdry rule of kings” (p. 263, l. 29).

Many negative words are used in connection with the colonised lands and their inhabitants. For example, the newly formed colonies suffer from famine and disease: “Fill full the mouth of Famine/And bid the sickness cease” (p. 262, ll. 21-22). The native peoples are hostile - “silent, sullen” (p. 263, l. 16) - and they mistrust and misunderstand the White Man: “The blame of those ye better,/The hate of those ye guard” (p. 263, ll. 3-4).

In the poem, we also notice the use of the historic English second-person, plural pronoun “ye” (p. 262, l. 2) instead of “you” to address the White Man. This helps to e...

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