Friday, 18 September 2015

Mother of Exiles

For a whole list of reasons, Emma Lazarus’s famous sonnet on The New Colossus is now in urgent need of rewriting …

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!"


  1. The phrase I most love in this poem is 'the wretched refuse of your teeming shore'. Those words speak about human potential and reflect the view of America in the 1880s. They say Americans don't care what your origins are, that every man and woman can rise to greatness. They say you can keep your intellectuals, your aristocrats, the rich-by-inheritance - our society is a blank sheet and we want people who are can turn that blank sheet into greatness. Give us your human garbage and we'll show you what they can do. Wow!

  2. Agree with Kiwiwit. A lot of people know the part that says "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses...". But the key part of that is the next: "... yearning to breathe free". Don't send us your poor because they are poor, but because they are yearning to be free. In other words: send us the people who made into refuse by your corrupt political system, with its "storied pomp". American "exceptional-ism", the poet seems to say, is not about race or inheritance: it is an exceptional political system: its system of individual rights that allows people to thrive.


    1. Yes, it is a system of individual rights that allows individuals to thrive. A system of individual rights, once well established, also has a rational and orderly immigration policy. What we are witnessing now is nothing other than an invasion of welfare states in order to loot. It is certainly not about building upon any canvas.


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