Liberty Enlightening the World: The Statue of Liberty poem (story from 1903)
Emma Lazarus, the Jewish poet, has been accorded an exceptional honor. On the inside of the pedestal of the statue of ‘Liberty Enlightening the World‘ on Bedloe’s Island has been placed a bronze memorial tablet bearing her name and the sonnet she wrote twenty years ago, dedicated to the statue.
It is entitled “The New Colossus,” and although many of our best-known poets have written for it, this now becomes its dedication, the noblest poem, the Springfield Republican declares, of them all. It is as follows:
The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus
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!”
This is not only a beautiful sentiment adequately expressed, but it voices the Americanism of a century that has passed. And reading it, it is worthwhile to ask, will it voice the Americanism of the century that is to come?
Just at present, there is a wave of protest against welcoming the horde of the “homeless and tempest-tossed” that is pouring in at Ellis Island. It is probably a passing wave. But it may not be passing; it may be followed by others that will eventually put out “the lamp beside the golden door.”
And yet the great field of opportunity is not occupied, the demand today is for labor everywhere, and the “homeless and tempest tossed” are sinking in to the mass of a contented, thrifty and ambitious citizenship absolutely unnoticed.
There may come a day when the welcome to the oppressed of all lands will have to be by card. But all who catch the spirit of Emma Lazarus will unite in putting that day off as far as possible in the future, and in keeping the torch of Liberty Enlightening the World burning as long as there is room for more.
Tablet on Liberty island to the poetess who sang of the new Colossus
From The New York Times – May 6, 1903
The memory of Emma Lazarus, a writer of note in her day, has been revived by her friend, Miss Georgina Schuyler, by a graceful act. Yesterday, a memorial bronze tablet was unveiled on Bedloe’s, or Liberty Island, as it is now called, just inside the entrance to the pedestal of Bartholdi’s gigantic statue of Liberty Enlightening the World.
The choice of this place rests on the interest which Emma Lazarus took in the Liberty Statue as a symbol for a land where the downtrodden and despised have found a chance to develop their own careers, and interest which found one expression in her verses on The New Colossus. They were written in 1883 and are inscribed on the tablet which Miss Schuyler has dedicated to her…
Emma Lazarus was the daughter of the late Mises Lazarus, and come of one of the old Jewish families of New York, well-known in the best society of the city. She died in 1887.
Statue of Liberty poem on the dedication plaque
Statue of Liberty poem: The New Colossus, as handwritten by Emma Lazarus
Emma Lazarus (1849-1887) “The New Colossus” [titled “Sonnet” in notebook] 1883. Manuscript poem, bound in journal. Courtesy of the American Jewish Historical Society, New York and Newton Centre, Massachusetts