The Iconic poem ‘The New Colossus” was one sonnet all American children had to read in school, at least those of us in the Baby Boom generation. And the words immortalized on a plaque hanging inside the the base of the Statue of Liberty are as follows:
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!”
It was originally written by poet Emma Lazarus in 1883 to be cast on a copper plaque and sold in a fundraiser to raise money to fund the construction of the monument’s elaborate base. But it was not used as a part of the monument until the poem was published in the New York Times and lauded by Joseph Pulitzer, the owner of the newspaper and himself an immigrant. Then the venerable sonnet took on a special significance to America’s inwardly bound immigrants
The statue itself was a gift to the United States from the people of France in 1886 to simply represent the new republic in the New World, but the poem made the monument to take on the special significance of being a beacon of hope for the immigrants who were sailing into the harbor and seeing it for the first time. So instead of the giant statue being like the Greek conquering Colossus warrior of ancient times, she was more like a welcoming mother figure with the “imprisoned lightning” of the torch being indicative of the new technology of electricity with the the dawning of a new day. Hence the statue made America the symbol of being the melting pot for the peoples of the world.
Emma Lazarus was born on July 22, 1849, and in addition to being a writer and a poet, she was an activist for Jewish rights and was the descendant of of the original 24 Jewish settlers in New York who fled the Spanish Inquisition in Portugal and South America since before the American Revolution. The original manuscript for the poem id being preserved by the American Jewish Historical Society .