The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus

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In connection with the recent attacks on Central American migrants wishing to cross the border separating Mexico and the United States, the second segment of this poem has been echoing throughout the social network scene.

Little do they realize is this important section comes from a poem written by Emma Lazarus entitled the New Colossus. Written in 1883, Ms. Lazarus’ mission for this poem is to empower the US at that time to be the open gates that welcomed those wishing to flee the country for a better life. Originally written as part of a fund raiser for the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty, which had been in construction at that time, it had been set aside and forgotten when The Lady was completed and opened to the public in 1886. Lazarus died a year later at the age of 38, after becoming serious ill after her second trip to Europe. Yet, her friend Georgina Schuyler, campaigned to have her and her poem memorialized in 1901. Two years later, a plaque with her poem was created for the inside wall of the pedestal inside the Statue of Liberty, dedicating it in her memory and to the immigrants who saw the statue as the symbol of freedom and a new life. The original writing can be found at the American Jewish Historical Society in New York City.   The entire poem follows these lines below:

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 poem is dedicated to the thousands of Latin Americans fleeing repression and violence in their homelands for the United States to have a better life. The same goes for the refugees of Syria, Yemen, Iraq and parts of the Middle East and Africa who are seeking a better life in Europe and eventually the States as well. Always remember, the light will always be on; the door open, even if you toil through the waters, barracades and those who reject you. You are all always welcome.

 

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Emma Lazarus (1849-1887) had Jewish ancestry with her family originating from Germany and Portugal. Although she had spent almost her entire life in New York City, much of her writing has to do with the German heritage as she has written poems and stories with the likes of Wolfgang von Goethe and Heinrich Heine mentioned. The poetry works of these two German writers were adapted into English by Ms. Lazarus. Other themes of her works written had to do with immigration and its hardships as well as the Jewish religion, which she was born and raised into.  Details on her life and work can be found here.

 

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