The New New Colossus

In my first year poetry module, we spent a week studying ekphrasis: writing inspired by art. One of the poems we looked at was ‘The New Colossus’ by Emma Lazarus. It has an interesting background; commissioned for an auction of art and literary works raising funds for the construction of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, in 1903 the poem was engraved on a plaque which was placed inside the finished foundation. Although the poem was doubtlessly sincere at its time of writing, reading it in today’s political climate, its message seems almost (and rather tragically) laughable. Here it is in full:

The New Colossus

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!”

When I first read the poem, I thought it would be fun to attempt a modern rewrite, changing the subject of the poem from the ‘Mother of Exiles’ to Trump’s proposed wall between the U.S and Mexico. However, I never got round to finishing my poem until now, and now I feel like a bit of a hypocrite posting it, as I’ve often complained about being bored of the ‘America/Trump sucks’ genre of poetry (in my opinion it’s become a bit cliched and generally occurs within an echo-chamber of consenting opinions so creates no real change.) Furthermore, ‘The Wall’, as things have rather predictably transpired, is likely to be more ‘The Fence’, if anything at all. So, without further ado, here is a slightly hypocritical, out-of-date rewrite of an old poem. (I’m really great at selling my work.)

The New New Colossus

Not like the mighty lady of liberty fame
With a proud torch welcoming boats to land;
Here at our dust-swept, desolate border shall stand
A towering monstrosity marking the snuffed flame
Of freedom and bravery, and his name
The Wall. His barbed wire will cut the hand
That grasps for refuge; his cruel bricks will command
The barren desert that divided nations frame.
“Keep out of my yard!” cries he
With mortar lips. “Leave your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Keep them, the homeless, tempest-tost from me,
I stand guard before my bolted door!”