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Crosby on Kipling: A Parody of “The White Man’s Burden”

In February 1899, British novelist and poet Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem entitled “The White Man’s Burden: The United States and The Philippine Islands.” In this poem, Kipling urged the U.S. to take up the “burden” of empire, as had Britain and other European nations. Theodore Roosevelt, soon to become vice-president and then president, copied the poem and sent it to his friend, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, commenting that it was “rather poor poetry, but good sense from the expansion point of view.” Not everyone was as favorably impressed. Poet Ernest Crosby penned a parody of Kipling’s work, “The Real White Man’s Burden,” and published it in his 1902 collection of poems Swords and Plowshares. Crosby also wrote a satirical, anti-imperialist novel, Captain Jinks, Hero, that parodied the career of General Frederick Funston, the man who had captured Philippine leader Emilio Aguinaldo in 1901.

With apologies to Rudyard Kipling

Take up the White Man’s burden.

Send forth your sturdy kin,

And load them down with Bibles

And cannon-balls and gin.

Throw in a few diseases

To spread the tropic climes,

For there the healthy niggers

Are quite behind the times.

And don’t forget the factories.

On those benighted shores

They have no cheerful iron mills,

Nor eke department stores.

They never work twelve hours a day

And live in strange content,

Altho they never have to pay

A single sou of rent.

Take up the White Man’s burden,

And teach the Philippines

What interest and taxes are

And what a mortgage means.

Give them electrocution chairs,

And prisons, too, galore,

And if they seem inclined to kick,

Then spill their heathen gore.

They need our labor question, too,

And politics and fraud—

We’ve made a pretty mess at home,

Let’s make a mess abroad.

And let us ever humbly pray

The Lord of Hosts may deign

To stir our feeble memories

Lest we forget—the Maine.

Take up the White’s Man’s burden.

To you who thus succeed

In civilizing savage hordes,

They owe a debt, indeed;

Concessions, pensions, salaries,

And privilege and right—

With outstretched hands you raised to bless

Grab everything in sight.

Take up the White Man’s burden

And if you write in verse,

Flatter your nation’s vices

And strive to make them worse.

Then learn that if with pious words

You ornament each phrase,

In a world of canting hypocrites

This kind of business pays.

Source: Ernest Crosby, “The Real White Man’s Burden,” Swords and Ploughshares (New York: Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1902), 32–35.