Click on the pictures to see enlarged versions of the images.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The New Colossus

(The Great Bartholdi Statue: Liberty
Enlightening the World
, a lithograph
published in 1883 by Currier & Ives,
three years before the statue was erected)

This poem and this statue are making a repeat performance on our blog. They had first appeared on July 14 and 15 to celebrate the American spirit.

They are here today as the most famous example of
ekphrasis, a literary commentary on a work of art. So profound was the effect of the poem that it transformed the meaning of the statue itself and thus changed history and demography across the world.

Erected in 1886, the Statue of Liberty was created by the French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904) to honor the friendship between America and France on the occasion of America’s centennial. In 1883, before the statue found its home on an island just off New York City, Emma Lazarus, an American poet, was inspired to write a sonnet by pictures she saw of this grand work of art. A bronze plaque with the words of her verse was attached to the inner walls of the base of the statue in 1903.

At first, the meaning of the statue reflected its name, Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World: its beam of light reached out to inspire liberty across the earth. After the poem was published, there was an important added symbolism, of welcome: the light of the torch beckoned to America’s shores “the huddled masses yearning to be free.”


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 (1849-1887), American poet

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