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!
The title of the poem and the first two lines refer to the Colossus of Rhodes, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The poem talks about the millions of immigrants who came to the United States (many of them through Ellis Island at the port of New York).
The "air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame" refers to New York Harbour between New York City and Brooklyn, which were consolidated into one unit in 1898, 15 years after the poem was written.
There are several phrases associated with the Statue of Liberty, but the most recognizable is “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” This quote comes from Emma Lazarus’ sonnet, New Colossus, which she wrote for a fundraiser auction to raise money for the pedestal upon which the Statue of Liberty now sits. The poem did not receive much recognition and was quite forgotten after the auction.
In the early 1900s and after Lazarus’ death, one of her friends began a campaign to memorialize Lazarus and her New Colossus sonnet. The effort was a success, and a plaque with the poem’s text was mounted inside the pedestal of the statute.
Emma Lazarus (July 22, 1849 – November 19, 1887) was an American poet born in New York City.
Lazarus was born into a large Sephardic-Ashkenazi Jewish family, the fourth of seven children of Moses Lazarus and Esther Nathan, The Lazarus family was from Germany, and the Nathan family was originally from Portugal and resident in New York long before the American Revolution.
The Russian pogroms of 1881, which followed on the assassination of Czar Alexander II, brought terror-stricken survivors to America. Emma Lazarus's first response was to go to Ward's Island to see what she might do for the hapless men, women, and children who crowded its facilities. The "loyalty to race" was not so much a kinship with preceding generations, but a bond with those of her generation who needed her and her gifts.
One of the first successful Jewish American authors, Lazarus was part of the late nineteenth century New York literary elite and was recognized in her day as an important American poet. In her later years, she wrote bold, powerful poetry and essays protesting the rise of antisemitism and arguing for Russian immigrants' rights. She called on Jews to unite and create a homeland in Palestine before the title Zionist had even been coined.
Near the end of her life she became an advocate for disenfranchised immigrants, who were arriving by the thousands in the late 1800s.
She wrote The New Colossus at age 34. Less than five years later she was dead of cancer, never knowing the impact her poem had on the nation.