The New Colossus

“Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”

Chances are you recognize these famous lines from the poem everyone knows is associated with the Statue of Liberty. Here is what else you need to know.

The poem is an immigrant-friendly sonnet called “The New Colossus” by the American poet Emma Lazarus (1849–1887). A New-Yorker, Ms. Lazarus wrote the poem in 1883 to raise money for the construction of a pedestal for the Statue of Liberty. In 1903, the poem was engraved on a bronze plaque and displayed inside the then-completed pedestal. Stylistically, the poem is a Petrarchan sonnet, which means it has two sections of 8 lines and 6 lines and a prescribed rhyming scheme.

The “old” Colossus was a statue of the Greek sun-god Helios in ancient Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The Statue of Liberty, according to Ms. Lazarus, is the new Colossus.

Here is the poem in full:

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!”

Here are more facts you should know about The New Colossus:

  • “sea-washed, sunset gates” refers to the mouths of the Hudson and East Rivers.
  • “imprisoned lightning” is the electric light in the torch, which was pretty novel at the teim.
  • “air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame” is the New York Harbor between New York City and Brooklyn, which were actually two separate cities at the time. They didn’t become one city until 1898, 15 years after the poem was written.
  • “huddled masses” of course are the immigrants that we welcomed to our young nation.

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