Emma Lazarus’ Poem on the Statue of Liberty

As part of National Poetry Month, I decided to post the poem that’s engraved on the Statue of Liberty. Not just because it is poetry, but also because it’s a poem we’re all familiar with but probably have never read in its entirety. Besides the fact that it was written by a woman, it’s notable for its feminine imagery. The so-called Mother of Exiles is the epitome of what we expect from women: that they welcome, comfort and care for those who are in need.

There’s a tie-in here to the post I wrote on Monday. Women have a role to play in our nation’s life that can’t be measured by victories or dollars. The male figure in this poem is the “brazen giant” with the “conquering limbs.” But “the mighty woman with a torch” has an equal, or perhaps even greater, power. Because it’s not our might alone that has made America’s reputation around the world. It’s also our willingness to accept people from all over the world onto our shores. More than anything, Americans are known for having big hearts.

Or we used to be. I have some Libyan friends who have been disillusioned about America since they’ve spent time here. They had always thought of the U.S. as a place where a person would be accepted for who he is and given the same opportunities as every other inhabitant. I’m ashamed when I see it dawning on them that Americans are prejudiced and paranoid about Muslims. In a way they’re not surprised (they haven’t forgotten 9/11 any more than we have), but they expected better from us.

When did we stop being proud of what the Statue of Liberty stands for?

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!”