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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The New Colossus

I was going to do a parody of Emma Lazarus' famous poem which is inscribed on a plaque on the State of Liberty. However, upon doing a little research, I found the poem, which I'd never heard in its entirety before. It's actually quite beautiful:

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!"

I like the comparison to the Colossus of Rhodes, and the contrast of the woman -- the "Mother of Exiles" -- with the "mild eyes" to "the brazen giant of Greek fame." I like the way this Mother tells the "ancient lands" -- Europe and the Near East -- to keep their "storied pomp," with the implication that this New World country is not at all pompous.

The only problem is, the last five lines are now a little self-defeating for this country. Still, it's a great sonnet. 

I had intended to say something along the lines of, 

Give me your Marielistas, your Mexican Mafia, 
Your masses of low IQ's yearning for welfare. 
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. 
Send these, the soon-to-be homeless, to me. 
I lift my lamp beside the green card.

But the poem itself is so beautiful, I can't bring myself to say that.

Emma Lazarus, when first asked to write a poem for the edifice, declined, saying she could not write a poem for a statue. But at the time, during the 1870's, she was heavily involved in helping Jewish victims of various pogroms in the Old World find refuge in the United States, and eventually she was convinced that her words would be seen by the many immigrants who were processed at Ellis Island. 

Lazarus' concern was primarily for her fellow Chosen, hence the reference to the "sunset gates," i.e., a gate to the West, where the sun sets, from the East, where her kinsmen were from. But the poem, especially the last five lines, have since become an invitation to every type of immigrant who wants to come to the US, from every direction, for every reason.

Which will eventually be our downfall, seeing as how our melting pot is no longer.

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