A Monumental Poem

This week, with all the talk of refugees, I’ve found myself thinking of the poem, “The New Colossus,” written by Emma Lazarus in 1883 to help raise funds for the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal and posted on the interior of that pedestal in 1903. I love that a poem is connected to this grand monument.

The Statue of Liberty. New York Harbor. I took this photo myself, in 2012.

The Statue of Liberty, New York Harbor. Those little dark spots at the bottom are people. The gold-coated flame shines in the sun. (Photo by Karin Fisher-Golton, 2012)

For three of my great-grandparents this figure was likely part of their first views of land after crossing the ocean, and leaving close family and their former lives behind. One of them was 17 and traveling alone. Two years later, her sister made the same trip alone at 15.

“Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Those lines are probably familiar, but do you know the rest? Here is the poem, a sonnet, in its entirety:

The New Colossus

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!”

—Emma Lazarus

What a powerful sentiment to have, where the edge of our country meets the ocean. May we find our way to keeping it true.

Thank you, Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect for hosting Poetry Friday. Find and enjoy more poetry there!

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15 Responses to A Monumental Poem

  1. What a lovely share today. It is an important reminder of what America stands for! Thank you!

  2. Yael Golton says:

    Thanks Karin,

    Indeed a powerful poem.

    Love Yael

  3. Tabatha says:

    Poetry is everywhere, isn’t it? Thanks for sharing the whole sonnet — I haven’t read it for a while. Good pick, Karin!

  4. cbhanek says:

    Beautifully timely! …Thought I had memorized (correctly) the lines starting “Give me,,,,”. Shocked myself when I carefully read the poem this past summer. I had been saying “yearning to be free,” rather than “breathe” free. “Breathe” free is such a more powerful word, don’t you think? Only a poet, it strikes me, would have recognized the sensual nuance. While I can’t correct what I incorrectly recited in the past, I think I’ll never again make that weak substitution. …Thinking about the Statue, I pray that, though it is “only a statue,” it stays safe along with all the people who treasure the dedication to freedom that she monuments! God bless you!…BTW, there is a connex between France and the Statue, if I recall correctly, it was a gift from France.

    • Interesting, funny story about “breathe”/”be.” I see how you or even she could have put that word in there, and also agree that “breathe” is definitely richer. I am so taken with the many powerful words Emma Lazarus used in this poem. You are correct that the statue was a gift from France. The US needed to create a pedestal for it, and this poem helped make that happen!

      • cbhanek says:

        Thank you so very much for responding to my comment…If I ever knew, I totally had forgotten about the monetary connection between the poem and the pedestal. Your comment inspired me to do a quick search. Thank you! …Happy Thanksgiving! …No matter what, may we “breathe”/”be” free that day and every day. God bless you!

  5. That is lovely. I hope we extend it to the Syrian refuges. I was disappointed by the governors whose nerve failed.

  6. Linda Baie says:

    It is a beautiful poem. There is a picture book telling the story of this poem, out last year, titled Liberty’s Voice, by Erica Silverman, FYI. Thanks for sharing about your own family. Can you imagine such a voyage at 17, or 15?

    • Thanks for letting me know about Liberty’s Voice. I will look for it. There is another picture book, which I like very much, called Emma’s Poem: The Voice of the Statue of Liberty by Linda Glaser, illustrated by Claire A. Nivola.

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