Poems on colonialism

Many poems and songs lyrics have been written about colonialism, the British Empire and other related themes. This lesson invites you to explore a few selected poems and song lyrics. You may find that you want to explore more poems and songs by one or more of these writers in preparation for an individual oral or HL Essay.

  1. Place each poem on a different table in your classroom. Get into 5 groups. As a group circulate around the room to each table, spending 10 minutes at each table. As a group, read each poem and complete a diagram, like the one below. Discuss your answers to the questions before writing short answers in each column. Before you rotate to the next table, read what others have written on their diagrams.  

  2. You, me, us, them Where and when Why
    Who are the speakers of these words? To whom are they speaking? How is an 'us' and 'them' relationship established?  In what ways do 'time' and 'place' play a role in constructing meaning in these poems? Why do you think these poets wrote these words in this order?




    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 made 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 hopes 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 !) towards 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 judgement of your peers.

    Old pirates, yes, they rob I
    Sold I to the merchant ships
    Minutes after they took I
    From the bottomless pits
    But my hand was made strong
    By the hand of the Almighty
    We forward in this generation
    Triumphantly
    Won't you help to sing
    These songs of freedom?
    'Cause all I ever have
    Redemption songs
    Redemption songs
    Emancipate yourself from mental slavery
    None but our self can free our minds
    Have no fear for atomic energy
    'Cause none of them can stop the time
    How long shall they kill our prophets
    While we stand aside and look?
    Some say it's just a part of it
    We've got to fulfill di book
    Won't you help to sing
    These songs of freedom?
    'Cause all I ever had
    Redemption songs
    Redemption songs
    Redemption songs
    Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
    None but ourselves can free our mind
    Oh, have no fear for atomic energy
    'Cause none of them can stop the time
    How long shall dey kill our prophets
    While we stand aside and look?
    Some say it's just a part of it
    We've got to fulfill di book
    Won't you help to sing
    These songs of freedom?
    'Cause all I ever had
    Redemption songs
    All I ever had
    Redemption songs
    These songs of freedom
    Songs of freedom

    I met a traveller from an antique land,
    Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
    Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
    And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
    Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
    The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
    And on the pedestal, these words appear:
    My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
    Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

    This Kingdom Will Not Reign
    Forever

    Cool winds blow
    softly

    in brilliant sunshine
    fruits pulse
    flowers flame

    mountains shade to
    purple

    the Great House
    with its palm and orange
    groves

    sturdy

    and the sea encircling
    all
    is a spectrum of the blue
    jewels
    shimmering and skirting

    But Beware

    Soft winds can turn
    volatile
    can mearge with rains
    can turn hurricane

    Mountains can erupt
    sulphur springs bubbling quick
    and hot

    like bile spilling
    from a witch's cauldron

    Swamps can send plagues-
    dysentery, fevers

    plantations can perish

    lands turn barren

    And the white man
    no longer at ease
    with the faint drum/
    beat

    no longer indifferent
    to the sweating sun/
    heat

    can leave exhausted
    or
    turn his thoughts
    to death

    And we
    the rage growing
    like the chiggers
    in our feet

    can wait
    or
    take our freedom

    whatever happens

    This Kingdom Will Not Reign
    Forever

    When the palefaces came in their whitewing'd canoes,
    Long ago, from the sun-rising sea
    When they ask'd for a lodge, and we did not refuse
    Happy then was the red man, and free.
    He could then choose a spot for his wigwam to stand,
    Where the forest was crowded with game;
    For the blue-rolling lake and the ever smiling land
    Were his own till the palefaces came
    For the broad grassy plains and the forests deep and grand,
    Were his own till the palefaces came.

    They came! they came! like the fierce prairie flame,
    Sweeping on to the sun-setting shore:
    Gazing now on its waves, but a handful of braves,
    We shall join in the the chase nevermore
    Till we camp on the plains where the Great Spirit reigns,
    We shall join in the chase nevermore.

    We receiv'd them with gladness, as Sons of the Sky
    We believ'd them of heavenly birth;
    But alas! to our sorrow we found by and by,
    That like us they were born of the earth.
    By their false traders wrong'd, by their firewater craz'd,
    There was no one our braves to restrain;
    So the swift flew, and the tomahawk was raise'd
    While we both mourn'd the blood of our slain;
    So the smoke-wreath did cease from the calumet of peace,
    While we both mourn'd the blood of our slain.

    When the oaks, pines and cedars were fell'd to the ground,
    'Twas a sight that with sorrow we saw;
    For the game fled affrighted, and no food was found
    For the old chief, the papoose and squaw.
    Driven westward we came, but the paleface was here,
    With his sharp axe and death-flashing gun;
    And his great iron horse is rumbling in the rear
    "O, my brave men!" your journey is done.
    Like the beaver and elk like the buffalo and deer
    "O, my brave men!" your journey is done.

  3. After having read all of these poems, work as a class to make a list of global issues that are relevant to the poems. Study each group's diagram to inform your list.

  4. Break up into smaller groups. Assign each group a different poem. Which global issue, from your class' list of issues are present in your group's poem? Where do you see evidence of this?

  5. Visit the page on poems in the text types section of this support site. Are there any poetic, stylistic or structural devices that you can identify in your group's poem? What are the effects of these devices on the reader? Take notes on your group discussion.

  6. In your group, (re)visit the 18 question from the areas of exploration and select 2-3 questions that relevant to your poem. Discuss your poem in relation to these questions. Take notes on your group discussion.

  7. Write 2-3 discussion questions, which refer to 2-3 of the concepts from this course: identity, perspective, representation, culture, transformation, creativity and communication. 

  8. Give a 5-minute, group presentation on your group's poem, in which you comment on: the global issues that are presented in your poem, the kinds of stylistic and structural features that you found in your poem and the AoE questions that you discussed as a group. Ask your classmates the questions that you wrote, using one or more of the concepts from this course, in order to initiate a classroom discussion on your poem.
Assessment

Take one of the poets or lyricists who are featured in this lesson and find more poems by him or her. What kinds of global issues are present in more poems by this poet? Can you find a non-literary body of work elsewhere (on this site) to pair with your poet to explore a global issue of choice in your individual oral?

Last modified: Friday, 21 February 2020, 2:10 PM