Rudyard Kipling is considered one of the most profound political poets of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. Preoccupied with Britain’s general state of possession of India, much of his work centers on the theme of political imperialism. To many critics, this constant theme held both negative and positive implications for his writing. It was a positive force in that it unified his works yet negative in that it limited his creativity. Nonetheless, his attachment to imperialism was so strong that it necessitated his need to convey its strengths through such uncompromised verse, which has gained him recognition as a master of political poetry.
Kipling’s view of his imperialism was one of moral and social obligation. He held his regard for the political state of Britain just as one regarded the Roman Empire during its reign. To Kipling, Britain was the source of stability, order, and peace in the chaos of a developing India. Kipling wrote several poems that connected this sentiment to the Roman Empire such as A Pict Song, which alludes to Rome’s strength as a political force.
Another poem that clearly states the imperialistic theme of Kipling’s works is The White Man’s Burden. In regards to his political view and Britain’s control of India and other undeveloped countries, Kipling viewed the responsibility of colonizing undeveloped countries as the burden of imperialistic advancement. “The underlying sense of responsibility towards the governed is splendidly expressed in The White Man’s Burden.
A different way of examining Kipling’s theme in his poetry is that imperialism is not only important, it is a must. “Auden takes the view that Kipling (and he is writing specifically of his verse) has as his main theme the defence of civilization seen as a continuos emergency, a permanent battle against the forces of darkness and barbarism.” The White Man’s Burden sets the tone of urgency in colonization that Kipling sees as the only way to “independent participation in civilization."
To understand Kipling’s choice of poetic theme is to understand the era of his writings. The late nineteenth century saw a surge in power by the English with their colonization of undeveloped countries such as India. His belief that the British Empire was the first and last word in governing compelled him into such a sense of obligation and responsibility that it consumed his writing.