Kerri McIntire .
On October 28, 1886, more than a million people attended the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty. The day was declared a public holiday. Speeches by President Grover Cleveland and well-known orator Senator William M. Evarts expounded on the significance of Lady Liberty’s raised torch, of her placement at the gateway to America. But she herself was not given a voice until seventeen years later, when part of a sonnet written by Emma Lazarus was engraved onto a bronze tablet and fastened to an interior wall of the pedestal.
The poem, entitled “The New Colossus,” had been penned by Lazarus in 1883 as part of a campaign to help raise funds for the construction of the statue’s pedestal. When its last five lines were added to the statue in 1903 – an event which elicited no publicity or fanfare – they became a credo for thousands of immigrants coming to America. The “Mother of Exiles” seemed to be calling especially to them. In 1945 the complete sonnet was engraved and placed over the Statue of Liberty’s main entrance. Emma Lazarus never got to see her words featured on the monument, as she had died in 1887 at age 37. “The New Colossus,” whose lines are now practically inseparable from Lady Liberty herself, might have been lost to history entirely if not for a woman named Georgina Schuyler. A New York patron of the arts, she found the poem tucked away in a small portfolio and arranged to have it immortalized on the very pedestal which had inspired its creation.
Thanks to two women, the towering hostess of America extends a verbal welcome to all who pass her way: a reminder that words, language, poetry, can shine and send forth the message of freedom as brightly as a lifted lamp.
“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!
Feature Image Credit: Library of Congress
Publication Date: October 28, 2010