“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free...”
You have likely heard these words before. They are from “The New Colossus”, a sonnet written by Emma Lazarus in 1883 (full text below). She wrote it to help raise money for the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York City (the statue itself a gift from France).
Unlike the original Colossus — a famous Greek statue built to demonstrate power — Lazarus saw the Statue of Liberty as having a "maternal strength, one that would boldly and compassionately welcome newcomers."
This was an important message given the context. Around the time Lazarus was writing the poem, the U.S. passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which limited immigrants from a specific region for the first time in American history. Then in 1886, when the statue opened to the public, the U.S. happened to experience a jump in immigrants from Europe, triggering 19th-century pundits to start inciting fear about the wave of newcomers.
The similarities between 1883 and modern times are notable, which is one reason we feature this poem in this month’s Kinship guide. At 138 years old, it seems there is still something we can learn from it.
Our greatest sign of strength — our colossus — stems not from our conquests but rather from our compassion.With open minds, open arms, and open hearts,
The New Colossus
By 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-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
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