The New Colossus

Politicians have been taking aim at immigration and immigrants, and the poem that was added to the base of the Statue of Liberty early in the 20th century has been targeted as well. That poem was written not only to mark the occasion of the setting up of the statue that France gave to the United States, but to raise money for the pedestal that it would sit atop. And so the fact that it was later added to that pedestal is incredibly appropriate. So too is the use of that poem today to defend keeping the United States immigration policy as one that welcomes many, and in particular refugees. For those who mau not have seen the new legislation that aims to reduce the country’s intake of immigrants still further. It is known as the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act.

The author of that poem, Emma Lazarus, was outspoken against antisemitism, and sought to raise awareness of the attacks on the Jewish people that were taking place in Eastern Europe, so that her fellow citizens would welcome refugees from Russia and elsewhere.

I was only recently reminded of the rest of Emma Lazarus’ poem “The New Colossus,” only part of which is usually quoted and universally known. And so here is the whole thing, which contrasts Lady Liberty with the famous giant statue from the ancient world.

The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus

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!”

The next time a conservative mentions “Judeo-Christian values,” it might be appropriate to ask whether they respect those such values that are found engraved on the base of the Statue of Liberty…

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  • Shiphrah99

    Try this devastating piece – 20+ years oldl and utterly topical. Lyrics by Tony Kushner, music by the Klezmatics.

  • Otto T. Goat

    What a lousy poem

  • Juliej1954

    Someone needs to remind Stephen Miller, close adviser to the President, of this, especially the part about anti-semitism and the motivation behind Emma Lazarus’s beautiful poem.

  • Jeff Carter

    Can I share this here? The Gospel and the Statue of Liberty ( feel free to use the song as your very own if you like it.)

    • James F. McGrath

      Thanks for writing and sharing this! The juxtaposition of the two texts is really striking and powerful!