The Poetry Hub: Emma Lazarus

Vivian Coleman, Staff Writer

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Poetry is a depiction of someone’s most vulnerable thoughts. It is a gateway to a person’s very own Elysium, completely surpassing Cerberus as each epic constructs a meaning with mundane flicks of pen on paper. The artist of the week is a woman famous; yet, she is barely regarded: an oxymoron that grows with the passage of time. This classical American poet conveyed the foundation of America; however, it was not until her death at thirty-eight that she became renown for coining Lady Liberty as: The Mother of Exiles.

Nowadays, Liberty sags beneath the weight of those who attempt to suppress her. No longer are her woes comforting the foreign persecuted as the twenty-first century evolves into an era that ensures the quaking of the founders’ boots. Recently, President Trump’s administration suggested that Emma Lazarus’s poem “The New Colossus”—which is inscribed upon the pedestal at Liberty Island—conveyed that America was irrefutably for Europeans as a welcome to those who could “stand on their own two feet.” Yet, as a Jewish born American, Lazarus advocated against Anti-Semitic propaganda and inequity. Therefore, Lazarus relaying that America was intended for stable Europeans is unfounded.

Lazarus’ poem is considered a controversial topic in today’s day and age as legislatures fight to remove the inscription from its helm due to an “influx” of immigration issues. “The New Colossus” earned Lazarus the spotlight of the week because despite the piece being woven in 1883, the poem proves that in spite of time, history is repeating.

It begins with a contrast between the old and modern era: “Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame with conquering limbs astride from land to land […] A mighty woman with a torch […] and her name The Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome.” To share some context, Lazarus depicts the distinction between waring monarchical societies, like Great Britain under King George’s rule, to a modern era where “governments are instituted among men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” A modern era tolerant of expression and religion despite views from the federal government. She further expresses this ideal by portraying Lady Liberty stating, “Keep, ancient lands, you storied pomp.” However, it was not the maternally stern impression that Liberty is idealized with. The inscription on her pedestal reads: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free […] Send these the homeless, tempest-tost to me…”

America has always proclaimed itself a beacon of light for those straggling with oppressive chains. Lady Liberty, The Mother of Exiles, has always embraced the tormented as they begin their passage from their homeland to Ellis Island seeking sanctuary. However, sanctuary can not be given to those in need when a country cannot internally differentiate friend from foe.