In the opening lines of the poem, the speaker says that the eponymous "New Colossus" is "Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, / With conquering limbs astride from land to land." This is an allusion to the Colossus of Rhodes, a lost wonder of the ancient world. The Colossus of Rhodes was a giant statue representing Helios, the Greek god of the sun. It was once thought that the statue straddled the entrance to the harbor in the Greek city of Rhodes, and it is this popular belief that the speaker alludes to with the image of the statue's "conquering limbs astride from land to land."
In lines 4 through 6 of the poem, the speaker describes "A mighty woman with a torch" and gives her the name "Mother of Exiles." This is a reference to the Statue of Liberty. The speaker calls her the "Mother of Exiles" because, to her, the statue stands as a symbol that America welcomes immigrants and refugees searching for a better life.
In lines 10 through 14 of the poem, the speaker imagines the voice of the Statue of Liberty. The speaker imagines that the Statue of Liberty is saying to the world, "Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free... your homeless." In other words, the Statue of Liberty welcomes all immigrants and refugees who are in need of help and who are in need of refuge. These are the people who are "tired... poor... [and] homeless."
The poet suggests throughout the poem that the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of refuge and freedom. For example, she describes the torch held by the Statue of Liberty as a "beacon." A beacon is often used as a guide. A lighthouse, for example, projects a beacon light to guide ships away from dangerous areas and to help them navigate their way to their destination. In the same way, the Statue of Liberty serves as a guide for people trying to avoid danger and for people looking for refuge. The poet also says that this beacon is a "world-wide welcome" and that the eyes of the Statue of Liberty are "mild." Vocabulary like this helps to emphasize that the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of refuge and freedom and also of kindness and tolerance.