42. The New Colossus: Emma Lazarus

Yes, this is the poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty. We hear lines quoted all of the time, but, like Woody Guthry’s “This Land is Your Land” (available in another post), how many people read the whole thing? Unlike Guthry, Lazarus only adds a bit more of the same to those often quotes lines.

This is a good poem to have students read aloud. It is meant to be said with conviction. Doing so brings out the nay-sayers who are trying on the hat of being anti-American but have not really thought about what it means to thumb the flag (so, are you against immigration, or the ideal of America and what it stands for? No, so why do you want to (burn the flag, not stand for the Pledge, etc.?)). It starts an interesting dialogue. We have kids compete to read it aloud during the Constitution Day festivities our school holds (September 17), where these teachable moments present themselves. By the time we hash out what it means to be an American, and a patriot, our entire class is able to come to the celebration with their own unique-but-positive take on the day. It also sets up a great study of American history for the rest of the year.

Students need to know who the Colossus of Rhodes is, which makes for an interesting lesson in itself. Why, for example, is it one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World? Is the Statue of Liberty one of the modern world? Why do these ancient stories still have a hold on us? Is the “light” symbolic? How so? What was the gift of the Statue of Liberty from France symbolic, and how is it art?

On top of all of that, it is an easy poem. Art? I am not sure. Your students should get it, and you can dig deeper from there.

The New Colossus
Emma Lazarus

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-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”


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