What Is the New Colossus? Originally Published November 1-2, 2019.

Maybe to understand what the New Colossus is we should have an inkling what the old one was.  The Colossus of Rhodes (in Greek, ὁ Κολοσσὸς Ῥόδιος) is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  A statue of the Greek sun god Helios, it stood looking out to the harbor on the island of Rhodes, put there by Chares of Lindos in 280 BCE.  They believe it was about 108 feet high not counting its base.  The earthquake of 226 BCE took it down.

Bearing a date of November 2, 1883, “The New Colossus” was a poem, a sonnet, by Emma Lazarus (an American Jew, 7/22/1849-11/19/1887).  She submitted it to an auction to aid the Bartholdi Pedestal Fund, a fund established to facilitate the building of a base upon which to park the Statue of Liberty, created by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, then being given by France to the United States.  The statue was to be approximately the same height as the Colossus of Rhodes. 

The poem was inscribed in 1903 on a plaque which was placed on the statue’s pedestal.  (In 1945 it was moved to the entrance hallway.)

Emma Lazarus was already a well-known poet when she wrote “The New Colossus.”  I commend you to read her “Echoes,” “Life and Art,” “Age and Death,” and so many more.  And she also was no stranger to the plight both of emigrants from dangerous countries and of immigrants to this country.  In the 1880s there were waves of pogroms plaguing Jews in Eastern Europe, and Ms. Lazarus was active with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.  She also spoke out and wrote against anti-Semitism, in favor of a Zionist solution to the rampant persecution of Jews, and against persecution of immigrants here in the U.S.

Her poem “The New Colossus,” the most famous lines of which are “Give me your tired, your poor,  / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” became the verbal embodiment of the Statue of Liberty, one intent of which was a mark of solidarity between France and the U.S. in terms of the promulgation of liberty. 

Liberty is one resource we never must run out of:  we must always be certain that there is enough to go around and that we offer it to those who need it.