Last modified on 8 September 2019, at 21:41

The New Colossus

The Statue of Liberty; the New Colossus

The New Colossus is a Petrarchan sonnet written in 1883 by Emma Lazarus. It is engraved on a plaque at the Statue of Liberty. The work is often times promoted by the media as a policy statement about immigration, however it is nothing more than an aspirational poem.[1]

The Statue of Tyranny; the Old Colossus

While the poem is inspired by the plight of people who faced oppression, it is a statement of American Exceptionalism[2] and not an excuse for the arrival of unbridled illegal aliens.

Interpretation

The sonnet contains several verses, most of which are completely ignored. The first section of the sonnet presents the tone of the whole. Emma Lazarus was a fifth-generation girl of Jewish descent who was deeply moved and sympathetic to the plight of those in Russia being mistreated during the Pogroms. As such, she observed in detail the tyranny used against her people while at the same time she saw Liberty up close because she lived it. With that context, she begins with a contrast between Liberty and tyranny:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

This section describes how the Statue of Liberty is "Not like" that other "brazen" statue, which stood "With conquering limbs". She stands on Liberty Island, but in contrast to the Statue of Tyranny which stood at Rhodes in old Europe.

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.

This section highlights Lazarus' fondness and appreciation for the Liberty and uniqueness available in America that was and still is not found elsewhere in the world. American Liberty is so important that a statue has been erected to put it on full display. The Statue of Liberty, this "Mighty woman" is the New Colossus, which has eclipsed the outmoded ideals as represented in the poem by the Old Colossus.

From her beacon-hand
Glows worldwide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

This section highlights the Statue of Liberty, with her "imprisoned lightning" lighting the way, as she stands as a symbol for all to see, even at night. She stands at the harbor between the twin cities of Brooklyn and New York City located at the "sea-washed, sunset gates" at the mouths of the East River and the Hudson. She welcomes anybody, from anywhere, who is interested in being set free from the bonds of authoritarianism.

Lazarus notes that while she stands holding her torch "with silent lips" welcoming all, her "mild eyes command" all to note that here is the land of Liberty, not the land of "storied pomp".

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she

This section ridicules the old systems which have proven over the centuries to be unworkable.

European kingdoms had long been dominated by tyrannical monarchs and tsars, and even as Lazarus wrote the poem the old tyrannies were being replaced by new forms of dictatorship such as socialism and communism. Lords and Ladies and technocrats of all kinds were and still are proud of their accomplishments, their family names, titles of nobility, and heraldry, and Lazarus says of their "storied pomp" that it doesn't matter. Keep all of that, because Liberty is more valuable.

Together with the opening line that contrasts the Statue of Tyranny with the Statute of Liberty, this section in 8 words tells the overlooked story of the sonnet.

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!"

This final section highlights the contrast between the lords and tsars who had overlooked the people who didn't have any "storied pomp"; they didn't attend the correct schools or have historically recognized family names. These were the average people deemed unvaluable by their "betters".

This section is about the forgotten men and women. Those people who were "yearning to breathe free", who were never allowed to be free, and could not reach their full potential without freedom. If they want to come, we will take them. Once under the umbrella of Liberty, these people can be anything and do anything.

The forgotten man can find the golden door, and it is here. The Mother of Exiles, with her broken chain on her right foot, holds the "imprisoned lightning" even at night just in case the path is hard to find. Here is the door, and She lights the way.

Even though Lazarus is explicitly writing about the promise of freedom, many do not believe in Individual Liberty so they have to interpret this as a welcome to the welfare state and endless redistribution. Lazarus wrote that Europe's "huddled masses" were "yearning to breathe free", not that they were "yearning to receive free transfer payments".

Complete text

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 worldwide 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!"

See also

References