The New Colossus

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The New Colossus
New Colossus manuscript Lazarus.jpg
Emma Lazarus's manuscript
LocationStatue of Liberty, Liberty Island, New York City, New York, U.S.[1]
Author(s)Emma Lazarus
PurposeTo raise money for construction of the statue's pedestal

"The New Colossus" is a sonnet that American poet Emma Lazarus (1849–1887) wrote in 1883 to raise money for the construction of a pedestal for the Statue of Liberty (Liberty Enlightening the World).[2] In 1903, the poem was cast onto a bronze plaque and mounted inside the pedestal's lower level.

History of the poem[edit]

The Statue of Liberty in New York City

This poem was written as a donation to an auction of art and literary works[3] conducted by the "Art Loan Fund Exhibition in Aid of the Bartholdi Pedestal Fund for the Statue of Liberty" to raise money for the pedestal's construction.[4] Lazarus's contribution was solicited by fundraiser William Maxwell Evarts. Initially she refused but writer Constance Cary Harrison convinced her that the statue would be of great significance to immigrants sailing into the harbor.[5]

"The New Colossus" was the first entry read at the exhibit's opening on November 2, 1883. It remained associated with the exhibit through a published catalog until the exhibit closed after the pedestal was fully funded in August 1885,[6][7] but was forgotten and played no role at the opening of the statue in 1886. It was, however, published in Joseph Pulitzer's New York World as well as The New York Times during this time period.[8] In 1901, Lazarus's friend Georgina Schuyler began an effort to memorialize Lazarus and her poem, which succeeded in 1903 when a plaque bearing the text of the poem was put on the inner wall of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.[4]

On the plaque hanging inside the Statue of Liberty, the line "Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" is missing a comma, and reads in Lazarus's manuscript "Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!"[9] since its unveiling in 1903. The plaque also describes itself as an engraving; it is actually a casting.

The original manuscript is held by the American Jewish Historical Society.[10]


The Colossus of Rhodes, as depicted in an artist's impression of 1880

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!"

The poem is a Petrarchan sonnet.

The title of the poem and the first two lines refer to the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, sometimes described as standing astride the harbor; contrasted with the "New" Colossus (the Statue of Liberty, described in the poem).

The "sea-washed, sunset gates" are the mouths of the Hudson and East Rivers, to the west of Brooklyn. The "imprisoned lightning" refers to the electric light in the torch, then a novelty.

The "air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame" refers to New York Harbor between New York City and Brooklyn, which were separate cities at the time the poem was written, before being consolidated as boroughs of the City of Greater New York in 1898.

The "huddled masses" are the many immigrants coming to the United States (many of them - in the early 1900s - through Ellis Island at the port of New York).

The "golden door" has a double meaning - of the literal entryway immigrants to America passed through (the Communipaw Terminal on Ellis Island), as well as metaphorical doors of opportunity and prosperity for those suffering oppression and poverty (the 'huddled masses').


Bronze plaque inside the Statue of Liberty

Paul Auster wrote that "Bartholdi's gigantic effigy was originally intended as a monument to the principles of international republicanism, but 'The New Colossus' reinvented the statue's purpose, turning Liberty into a welcoming mother, a symbol of hope to the outcasts and downtrodden of the world."[11]

John T. Cunningham wrote that "The Statue of Liberty was not conceived and sculpted as a symbol of immigration, but it quickly became so as immigrant ships passed under the torch and the shining face, heading toward Ellis Island. However, it was [Lazarus's poem] that permanently stamped on Miss Liberty the role of unofficial greeter of incoming immigrants."[12]

The poem has entered the political realm. It was quoted in John F. Kennedy's book A Nation of Immigrants (1958)[13] as well as a 2010 political speech by President Obama advocating immigration policy reform.[14] On August 2, 2017, the poem and its importance to the Statue of Liberty's symbolism, and thus the effect on American immigration policy, was debated in a White House briefing.[15]

Classical composer David Ludwig set the poem to music, which was performed at the worship service of President Obama's 2013 inauguration ceremony.[16]

Parts of the poem also appear in popular culture. The Broadway musical Miss Liberty, with music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, an immigrant himself, used the final stanza beginning "Give me your tired, your poor" as the basis for a song.[17][13] Joan Baez used the second half of the poem in her lyrics to The Ballad of Sacco and Vanzetti Part 1 which forms parts of Ennio Morricone's soundtrack to the 1971 Italian film Sacco & Vanzetti, based on the events surrounding the trial and judicial execution of the Italian-born American anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti.[18]

It was also read in the 1941 film Hold Back the Dawn as well as being recited by the heroine in Alfred Hitchcock's wartime film Saboteur.[13]


  1. ^ "Statue of Liberty National Monument". US: National Park Service. 2007-12-31. Retrieved 2008-07-24.
  2. ^ Lazarus, Emma, The New Colossus, Liberty State Park
  3. ^ Sutherland, Cara A (2003), The Statue of Liberty: The Museum of the City of New York, Barnes & Noble, p. 77, ISBN 0-7607-3890-4, auction of art and literary work; Mark Twain also contributed.
  4. ^ a b Young, Bette Roth (1997), Emma Lazarus in Her World: Life and Letters, The Jewish Publication Society, p. 3, ISBN 0-8276-0618-4, …fell into obscurity. At the unveiling of the statue […] both Emma and her sonnet were absent […] Georgina Schuyler set in motion a successful attempt to memorialize her friend by placing the poem, inscribed on a bronze tablet, inside the pedestal….
  5. ^ Felder, Deborah G; Rosen, Diana L (2003), Fifty Jewish Women Who Changed the World, Citadel, p. 45, ISBN 0-8065-2443-X, …William Maxwell Evert [sic; presumably a misspelling of "William Maxwell Evarts] asked […] Lazarus[…] to compose original works […] who […] refused […] until […] Constance Cary Harrison[…] suggested that she consider what the statue would mean to the thousand of immigrants who would see it as they sailed into New York….
  6. ^ "Image-Art Loan Fund Exhibition in Aid of the Bartholdi Pedestal Fund for the Statue of Liberty Catalogue".
  7. ^ "The Statue of Liberty - Engineering, Construction, and Crossing the Atlantic".
  8. ^ "National Park Service-Statue of Liberty-Emma Lazarus".
  9. ^ Shapiro, Gary (2006-12-08). "Misprint is spied in Lazarus poem at Liberty island". The New York Sun. Retrieved 2007-06-08.
  10. ^ Roberts, Sam (2011), "How a Sonnet Made a Statue the 'Mother of Exiles'", New York Times, retrieved 2013-11-21
  11. ^ Auster, Paul (2005), "NYC = USA", Collected Prose: Autobiographical Writings, True Stories, Critical Essays, Prefaces, and Collaborations with Artists, Picador, p. 508, ISBN 0-312-42468-X.
  12. ^ Cunningham, John T (2003), Ellis Island: Immigration's Shining Center, Arcadia Publishing, pp. 46–48, ISBN 0-7385-2428-X.
  13. ^ a b c McGill, Meredith L. (2008). The Traffic in Poems: Nineteenth-century Poetry and Transatlantic Exchange. Rutgers University Press. p. 118.
  14. ^ Jackson, David (July 1, 2010). "Obama edits Emma Lazarus poem on Statue of Liberty". The Oval. USA Today. Retrieved July 15, 2015.
  15. ^ "Trump aide dismisses Statue of Liberty "huddled masses" poem". CBS News. CBS News. August 3, 2017. Retrieved July 4, 2018.
  16. ^ "Curtis Part of Inauguration Day Ceremonies". Retrieved March 12, 2017.
  17. ^ Esther Schor, Emma Lazarus, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group - 2008, page 255
  18. ^ Stipes., Watts, Emily (1977). The poetry of American women from 1632 to 1945. Austin: University of Texas Press. ISBN 0292764359. OCLC 2463497.

External links[edit]

  • Lazarus, Emma, "The new Colossus", A Century of Immigration, 1820–1924 (handwritten) (sonnet), Library of Congress. The latter page says "Courtesy of the American Jewish Historical Society, New York and Newton Centre, Massachusetts". The poem itself, having been published in 1883 or at the very latest 1903 is in the public domain
  • ———, Schor, Esther (ed.), The New Colossus (interactive ed.), Nextbook Press.
  • Manuscript notebook from the Emma Lazarus collection at the American Jewish Historical Society. Includes an undated manuscript version of "The New Colossus."
  • Cavitch, Max (2008). "Emma Lazarus and the Golem of Liberty." In The Traffic in Poems: Nineteenth-Century Poetry and Transatlantic Exchange. Ed. Meredith L. McGill. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. 97-122.
  • Marom, Daniel (2000). "Who is the 'Mother of Exiles'? An Inquiry into Jewish Aspects of Emma Lazarus's 'The New Colossus'". Prooftexts. 20 (3): 231–61. doi:10.1353/ptx.2000.0020.