Sunday, November 15, 2009

The New Colossus


If you go to the Statue of Liberty, you will find the following poem on a plaque at the pedestal of the mighty lady. Entitled "The New Colossus", it was written by Emma Lazarus in 1883 but the plaque containing the poem was not actually mounted onto the statue until 1903 -- twenty years after it was written and seventeen years after Emma Lazarus died in 1887. It's hard to imagine that this amazing poem that so perfectly captures the spirit of American and this great city was originally given such short shrift. However, reading it today, you realize that it's message has not only not faded but has only grown more powerful over the years:

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-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

A few interesting things about this poem and its writer:

1. Upon reading it, I was surprised to realize that it's "breath free" and not "be free." I always thought it was the latter, and you can see why it's easy to think that, but just for the record: it's breath, not be.

2. The part "harbor that twin cities frame" refers to the fact that, in 1883 when this was written, New York harbor served two cities: New York and Brooklyn. Brooklyn did not become part of NYC until 1898.

3. Emma Lazarus, in you case you didn't realize it from her last name, was Jewish. Specifically, she was a Sephardic Jew, her family having come over from Spain during colonial times. Not only that, but she was related to Associate Justice Benjamin Cardozo and was also a strong Zionist.

1 comment:

Please keep it civil, intelligent, and expletive-free. Otherwise, opine away.