Poetry Sunday: “The New Colossus,” by Emma Lazarus

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!”


This poem is in the public domain.


Emma Lazarus (1849-1887) was born in New York City to a wealthy family. She began writing poetry as a teenager and was soon publishing translations of German poems. Her first collection, Poems and Translations (1867), gained the attention of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry James, and others. Over the next decade, Lazarus published a second volume of poetry, Admetus and Other Poems (1871), the novel Alide: An Episode in Goethe’s Life (1874), and a verse play, The Spagnoletto (1876). George Eliot’s novel Daniel Deronda, with its exploration of Jewish identity, inspired Lazarus to work against the persecution of Jews in Russia, publishing a polemical pamphlet The Century (1882) and Songs of a Semite: The Dance to Death and Other Poems (1882). The first prominent literary champion of Jewish-American identity, Lazarus was an early advocate for Jewish refugees and a Jewish homeland. Commissioned to write a poem to help raise funds for the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, she initially declined and then wrote this sonnet whose closing lines were engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in 1903 and are still being memorized by schoolchildren today.

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  • Millicent Borges Accardi July 2, 2017 at 5:46 pm

    Emma Lazarus was also our first female Portuguese-American writer! Born on July 22, 1849 in New York City to a wealthy sugar refining family of Portuguese Sephardic Jewish descent. https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poet/emma-lazarus