from the files of children’s author
Barbara Jean Hicks
In 1883, poet Emma Lazarus was asked to compose a sonnet for an arts auction to raise funds for a pedestal for the Statue of Liberty, which had been given to the United States by France. Inspired by her Sephardic Jewish heritage and her experiences working with refugees, Lazarus composed “The New Colossus.” Her famous poem was inscribed on a plaque and placed on the inner wall of the statue’s pedestal in 1903, twenty years after she wrote it and seventeen years after her death.
We are a country of many immigrants, beginning with those who fought a war to gain independence from Great Britain. I hope the Fourth of July this year was marked with gratefulness as well as fireworks by immigrants old and new who took great risks for the promise of liberty and opportunity in a new land; by those whose ancestors arrived involuntarily; and by those who were here before immigrants came. We are not a perfect country, but we are a good one, and there is something here for all of us.
I remember learning the last five lines of "The New Colossus" in elementary school and being moved by them even as a child. Does anyone else remember?
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-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”