Sunday, August 9, 2015

Sunday Poetry - Emma Lazarus

I knew that the lines inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty were written by Lazarus, but I didn't know the story of the sonnet until I found it again in this anthology & did some googling. Lazarus wrote the poem, The New Colossus, as a donation to an auction raising money to construct the pedestal for the statue. It was then forgotten & wasn't mentioned when the Statue of Liberty was unveiled (or whatever you do with a statue that size) in 1886. Lazarus died the next year, & it wasn't until 1901 that her friend, Georgina Schuyler, began lobbying for her words to be inscribed on the base of the statue. This was done in 1903.
It's appropriate that Lazarus's poem has become so famous as a representation of the immigrant experience. She first connected with her Jewish heritage when she heard of the Russian pogroms in the 1880s & became an ardent Zionist. Many later immigrants from Russia & all over Europe would have seen the Statue of Liberty as they entered the United States & become familiar with her words.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”


  1. Lovely - and I like how it riffs on the classical but the classical doesn't come out so well. And still a terribly relevant sentiment today, given events in Australia.

    1. Yes, I thought about our current situation as well. Not just here but in Europe as well, the refugee crisis seems overwhelming.