“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land…”
The Statue of Liberty is something different – even if it wasn’t meant to be. That’s the power of poetry.
In her poem, “The New Colossus” Emma Lazarus marks the Statue of Liberty as the “Mother of Exiles.” This is a vastly different stance than the old Colossus of Rhodes which Lazarus describes as a conqueror. Rhodes with the help of Egypt prevented a siege in 304 BC and with the enemy gone, Rhodes used the money from selling the leftover equipment to build the tallest statue in the ancient world.
Alternatively, Lazarus personifies the Statue of Liberty as mother embracing and welcoming the people of the world into her home, our country. She is just as mighty as her predecessor, but making her a mother makes the Statue inherently more reachable, more welcoming, to newcomers than passing beneath a protecting sun-god. By personifying the Statue of Liberty, Lazarus has forever given kind voice for exiles and immigrants and refugees to heed as they journey to this foreign land. She holds aloft her torch of “imprisoned lightning” flame. Though she stands unmoving and with silent lips, she has the power to imprison lightning in her work to light the way for her children to come to their new home. Even in the poem itself, she takes control of the narrative with enjambment – she doesn’t let the end of a line end her either her description or her speech.
The Statue of Liberty was constructed as a monument to Republicanism, with nothing to do with immigration whatsoever. Emma Lazarus made the decision to immortalize the statue as a mother to all who cross our borders. This being written right after the signing of the Chinese Exclusion Act which explicitly barred a specific ethnic group from entering the United States for the first time in its history. Emma Lazarus wrote about the America we should be, even if it’s not exactly who are just yet.
Blog Prompt #1