Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Sunday, August 28, 2005


After typing out The White Man’s Shame the other night, copying it from a yellowed newspaper pasted in a 90-some-year-old family scrapbook that I found a few year's ago in the family cottage, I realized that I wanted to say some more about it.

People describe Kipling’s The White Man’s Burden as racist and pro-imperialist; I agree with the former but not with the latter. The poem seems to argue that imperialism has no end except the profit of the owning classes. The people doing the labor get exploited and the natives get exploited. Kipling’s racism is repugnant, but the poem isn’t pro-empire; it’s sarcastic and cynical.

The Shame satire is much more directly anti-imperialist and without taint of racism. The satire’s looser prosody marks it as a “pop” or “folk” poem: added syllables in some lines break the strict formalist mode of Kipling’s professional job and, in my view, improve the poem’s rhythm by adding well-handled variety. In line seven of the first stanza, 3-syllable beats perk up the general 2-syllable beat of the poem.

The original printing was from the Chicago Times-Herald, which, according to this web site, only existed from 1895 to 1901. Since Kipling’s poem was originally published in 1899, the satire came out between 1899 and 1901, and the Kalamazoo reprinting probably shortly after. We know that the copy in my family’s scrapbook is a reprint, because the credit wouldn’t have said “in Chicago Times-Herald” otherwise. The web has no information about the author, “C. H. G.,” in connection with the newspaper that printed her or his poem. It’s unlikely I’ll make it to a reference library with copies of the old Chicago paper any time soon.

[Note, much later. I revised this post because part of it was based on a literal misreading of a word in the poem; I deleted the relevant paragraphs. Also, I had originally posted the whole poem here. I took it down because I decided I should like to post it somewhere accurately, and I am not able to indent lines in this computer program. Hopefully I will have it up somewhere again.]

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