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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The New Colossus

I just have to say today, launching the July 4 holiday, that it was a homilist at St. Anne's who introduced me to the entire sonnet by Emma Lazarus which appears on the Statue of Liberty in New York. Most of us are familiar with the second half of it, but I don’t know how many, like me, have missed hearing the first part, which is stunning in its language and imagery. Furthermore, the title of the poem, “The New Colossus,” either never made an impression on me, or I had never heard it, before then. Of course the title hearkens back to the Colossus of Rhodes, a wonder of the ancient world that straddled the Mandraki harbor of the Greek city of Rhodes in the third century BCE. Lazarus wondrously contrasts that statue and all it stands for with the values represented by Bartholdi’s sculpture of “Liberty Enlightening the World.” I just wanted to post her beautiful sonnet here in case you might not have read it for a while. 

I think I wrote in a post about a month ago a little section about Liberty from the recent book  Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World, by Matthew Goodman. Even then, in the mid-19th century, Congress was deadlocked for years and unable to appropriate enough money for the base of the statue, which was being given as a gift to the nation by France for the centennial. Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of The World, the paper for which Nellie Bly wrote, published an editorial that changed the fate of Lady Liberty. "(By) urging the American public to donate money towards the pedestal in his newspaper New York World, Pulitzer raised over $100,000 in six months—more than enough money to ensure the pedestal's completion. As an article published in New York World on March 16, 1885 argued,
We must raise the money! The World is the people's paper, and now it appeals to the people to come forward and raise the money. The $250,000 that the making of the Statue cost was paid in by the masses of the French people- by the working men, the tradesmen, the shop girls, the artisans- by all, irrespective of class or condition. Let us respond in like manner. Let us not wait for the millionaires to give us this money. It is not a gift from the millionaires of France to the millionaires of America, but a gift of the whole people of France to the whole people of America.
The article's appeal was so popular that by August 11, 1885, the World collected over $100,000 in donations - most donations being about $1 or less. Roughly 125,000 people contributed to the completion of the pedestal thanks to Pulitzer's crusade." (Source)

Read Ms. Lazarus's sonnet aloud, and feel the strength of the poet’s language, and how her sentiments, as fresh as tomorrow’s news, are a challenge to America over 125 years later.

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!"
—Emma Lazarus, 1883