"The New Colossus" is a sonnet that American poet Emma Lazarus (1849–1887) wrote in 1883 to raise money for the construction of a pedestal for the Statue of Liberty. In 1903, the poem was cast onto a bronze plaque and mounted inside the pedestal's lower level.
This poem was written as a donation to an auction of art and literary works conducted by the "Art Loan Fund Exhibition in Aid of the Bartholdi Pedestal Fund for the Statue of Liberty" to raise money for the pedestal's construction. Lazarus's contribution was solicited by fundraiser William Maxwell Evarts. Initially she refused but writer Constance Cary Harrison convinced her that the statue would be of great significance to immigrants sailing into the harbor.
"The New Colossus" was the first entry read at the exhibit's opening on November 2, 1883, and remained associated with the exhibit through a published catalog until the exhibit closed after the pedestal was fully funded in August 1885, but was forgotten and played no role at the opening of the statue in 1886. It was, however, published in Joseph Pulitzer's New York World as well as The New York Times during this time period. In 1901, Lazarus's friend Georgina Schuyler began an effort to memorialize Lazarus and her poem, which succeeded in 1903 when a plaque bearing the text of the poem was put on the inner wall of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.
The line "Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" is missing a comma, and reads "Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" on the plaque hanging inside the Statue of Liberty since its unveiling in 1903. The plaque also describes itself as an engraving; it is actually a casting.
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!"
The poem is a Petrarchan sonnet.
The "sea-washed, sunset gates" are the mouths of the Hudson and East Rivers, to the west of Brooklyn. The "imprisoned lightning" refers to the electric light in the torch, then a novelty.
Paul Auster wrote that "Bartholdi's gigantic effigy was originally intended as a monument to the principles of international republicanism, but 'The New Colossus' reinvented the statue's purpose, turning Liberty into a welcoming mother, a symbol of hope to the outcasts and downtrodden of the world."
John T. Cunningham wrote that "The Statue of Liberty was not conceived and sculpted as a symbol of immigration, but it quickly became so as immigrant ships passed under the torch and the shining face, heading toward Ellis Island. However, it was [Lazarus's poem] that permanently stamped on Miss Liberty the role of unofficial greeter of incoming immigrants."
The poem has entered the political realm. It was quoted in John F. Kennedy's book A Nation of Immigrants (1958) as well as a 2010 political speech by President Obama advocating immigration policy reform. On August 2nd, 2017, the poem and its importance to the Statue of Liberty's symbolism and thus the effect on American immigration policy, was debated in a White House briefing.
Author and scholar Julia Gordon-Bramer theorizes that Sylvia Plath's poem, "Lady Lazarus," is about the Statue of Liberty and Lazarus in her book, Fixed Stars Govern a Life: Decoding Sylvia Plath, volume one (2014, Stephen F. Austin State University Press).
Parts of the poem also appear in popular culture. The Broadway musical Miss Liberty, with music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, an immigrant himself, used the final stanza beginning "Give me your tired, your poor" as the basis for a song. It was also read in the 1941 film Hold Back the Dawn as well as being recited by the heroine in Alfred Hitchcock's wartime film Saboteur. Harpist and singer Joanna Newsom indirectly references the poem in her 2015 song "Sapokanikan," in contrast to the forbidding colossus of Percy Bysshe Shelley's Ozymandias. The poem is read aloud in the eponymous episode,"New Colossus", in the 2016 Netflix web series The OA.
auction of art and literary work; Mark Twain also contributed.
…fell into obscurity. At the unveiling of the statue […] both Emma and her sonnet were absent […] Georgina Schuyler set in motion a successful attempt to memorialize her friend by placing the poem, inscribed on a bronze tablet, inside the pedestal….
…William Maxwell Evert [sic; presumably a misspelling of "William Maxwell Evarts] asked […] Lazarus[…] to compose original works […] who […] refused […] until […] Constance Cary Harrison[…] suggested that she consider what the statue would mean to the thousand of immigrants who would see it as they sailed into New York….
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