This poem has been on my mind since Obama's visit. Three of its lines are among the best known in America, but the rest may be less familiar. Emma Lazarus, a woman of Sephardic Jewish heritage who had worked among Russian Jewish refugees in New York, was commissioned to write the poem in 1883 as part of an arts event to raise funds for a pedestal, on which Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi's statue (a gift from France to America) would be raised. The statue went up in 1886, but the poem wasn't inscribed on it until 1903, twenty years after Lazarus's death. Lazarus called the statue “Mother of Exiles,” and called the poem “The New Colossus.”
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!”
I can't help but wonder what Emma Lazarus would make of the current Republican field of hopeful presidents, many of whom seem to think the huddled masses are the problem.