Saturday, July 12, 2008

The (Original!) White Man's Burden

Dear Everybody:

Here we go! Yesterday I gave you Ogden Nash on Kipling. Now here's Kipling on the British Empire. The British, it's been said, conquered the world in a fit of absent-mindedness. Well... not quite. They had a vision of themselves and nobody's ever articulated that vision better than Kipling.

The White Man's Burden
by Rudyard Kipling

Take up the White man's burden --
Send forth the best ye breed --
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.

Take up the White Man's burden --
In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
An hundred times mad plain.
To seek another's profit,
And work another's gain.

Take up the White Man's burden --
The savage wars of peace --
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch Sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hope to nought.

Take up the White Man's burden --
No tawdry rule of kings,
But toil of serf and sweeper --
The tale of common things.The ports ye shall not enter,
The roads ye shall not tread,
Go make them with your living,
And mark them with your dead!

Take up the White man's burden --
And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better,
The hate of those ye guard --
The cry of hosts ye humour
(Ah, slowly!) toward the light: --
"Why brought ye us from bondage,
"Our loved Egyptian night?"

Take up the White Man's burden --
Ye dare not stoop to less --
Nor call too loud on freedom
To cloak your weariness;
By all ye cry or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent, sullen peoples
Shall weigh your Gods and you.

Take up the White Man's burden --
Have done with childish days --
The lightly proffered laurel,
The easy, ungrudged praise.
Comes now, to search your manhood
Through all the thankless years,
Cold-edged with dear-bought wisdom,
The judgment of your peers!

Wow! Kind of takes the breath away, dunnit? You must sacrifice your happiness in order to wage "savage wars of peace" upon people who don't particularly want you to invade their countries, kill their brothers, destroy their cities. They'll hate you for it. But it's for their own good. They're savage and ignorant, and you're going to civilize them. It's your noble duty. And if, somehow, against all expectations your noble conquests only make things worse, why, it's their fault, not yours!

Now you understand why the man's work is banned in India. The Indians thought the British were just madmen from a parvenu barbaric country who had come to conquer and loot their ancient civilization. But the Victorians honestly bought this claptrap, which meant they were willing to suffer and die selflessly in the service of a very shabby cause. It made them unbeatable.

There are those who believe that poetry/fiction/art of all kinds can do no harm. I disagree. To say that is to say that it can do no good. Great art is capable of great good or great evil. And in defense of my thesis I offer the above.

And that's my thought for today.

All best,


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