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I was reading Henry Labouchère’s poem “The Brown Man’s Burden” first published in 1899. I was a little confused because at one point the antecedent for ye/you appears to switch from the white men to the brown men (meaning the Philippine natives).

For example, in the poem’s second stanza,

Pile on the brown man’s burden;
And, if ye rouse his hate,
Meet his old-fashioned reasons
With Maxims up to date.
With shells and dumdum bullets
A hundred times made plain
The brown man’s loss must ever
Imply the white man’s gain.

Here, the second-person ye pronoun seems to be referring to the natives (the brown men), while the third-person possessive pronoun his in his hate seems now to refer to the white men.

However, in all other parts of the poem, the second-person you seems to refer to the white men not to the brown ones, as in the poem’s opening couplet reading:

Pile on the brown man’s burden
To gratify your greed.

Please let me know whether I am analyzing the intended antecedents of these pronouns correctly here.

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    Why don't you think "you" still refers to white men? If you (white men) rouse the brown man's anger, answer the brown man's old fashioned reasons with your modern Maxims. (A pun on the contemporary gun.) Feb 23, 2021 at 6:21
  • Just for that sentence, it says if "you" rouse his hate, you will meet his old fashioned reasons with maxims. Isn't this meaning that if you, the natives, arouse the White men's hate, the natives will receive the fiery guns (maxim can refer to guns) from the White men?
    – CuriousCat
    Feb 23, 2021 at 6:24
  • I'm not sure. I guess the "you" here can still refer to white men, but then the natives would have "old-fashioned reasons" and the maxim guns. Does that still make sense?
    – CuriousCat
    Feb 23, 2021 at 6:25
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    No. The brown men's old-fashioned reasons will be met (answered) by the white man's Maxims. Feb 23, 2021 at 6:31
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    I gather clicking the little up-arrow-chevron thing to the left of a comment tosses its writer a bone, but I can't say I've ever had one ;-) Feb 23, 2021 at 6:47

2 Answers 2

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I don't see any change of antecedent:

Pile on the brown man’s burden; -> (imperative) Ye - the white man - should pile on (=increase) the brown man’s burden (of work and/or troubles)

And, if ye rouse his hate, -> and, [start parentheses] if, by doing this, you - the white man - rouse his the brown man's hate [end parentheses]

Meet his old-fashioned reasons -> (imperative) you - the white man - should counter his - the brown man's - old fashioned reasons for complaining

With Maxims up to date. -> with a modern machine gun.

Here, the second-person ye pronoun seems to be referring to the natives (the brown men), while the third-person possessive pronoun his in his hate seems now to refer to the white men.

No. It means if you - the white man - rouse his - the brown man's - hate, i.e. if you make the brown man angry.

Historically, slaves outnumbered the slave owners and the slave owners were in a state of constant anxiety that the slaves would rebel. The slave-owners therefore took the strongest measures to control their slaves.

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  • Thanks, done...
    – Greybeard
    Mar 27 at 21:07
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I think you are right, since the white man used to tell the world that he brings enlightenment to the dark, colonized lands. Then this state might refer to the moments when the natives resisted and asked for their independence, the white man refused and mentioned the old-fashioned reasons he used to tell the world in order to justify staying in the natives’ lands.

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    – Community Bot
    Mar 26 at 17:44
  • My English dad used to point out that a lot of white men in England were far from white men in those days, working at the furnaces of the Industrial Revolution, on the railways, down mines. And as for the chimney-sweeps .... 'White man' in some passages is so broad-brush as to be arguably racist. Mar 26 at 19:16
  • @EdwinAshworth reminded me of "Golden lads and girls all must, as chimney sweeps come to dust"..or something like that. Mar 26 at 19:19
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    @Cascabel I was never quite sure where the man with the dancing bear fitted into the great scheme of things. It's so hard to marry decent lyrics with a marvellous harmony. Mar 26 at 19:36
  • This doesn't seem to address the actual question. Mar 26 at 21:25

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