The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus


Originally, Emma Lazarus composed her sonnet as part of a campaign to raise money to construct a pedestal for the Statue of Liberty, a gift from France entitled "Liberty Enlightening the World." The poem contrasts the statue with the great Greek Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, that straddled the entrance to the shore of Rhodes. For Lazarus, this new statue opposed this ancient symbol of empiric strength as a beacon of maternal welcoming to the unwelcome and undesired. The call and claim of the poem proved so influential that the poem was affixed to the new statue as a manifesto for all incoming immigrants and a reminder of the source of the political experiment within the country. 

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!"

Reflection Questions

  1. How does the contrast between the Colossus of Rhodes and the Statue of Liberty affect the meaning of the later lines of the poem? 
  2. What do you think Lazarus means with the first line of the second stanza? 
  3. How does the original title of the statue compare to Lazarus's interpretation, especially in regard to the "imprisoned lightning"?
  4. How is this symbol a negotiation of freedom and law? 

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