The New Colossus

by Emma Lazarus

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Last Updated on August 30, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 284

Emma Lazarus's 14-line poem "The New Colossus" describes the Statue of Liberty in New York City by comparing it with the ancient Colossus at Rhodes. Through this comparison, Lazarus offers the world a vision of a new colossus that offers refuge and freedom rather than war. 

The title and first line of Lazarus’s poem draw a comparison between “The New Colossus” and “the brazen giant of Greek fame,” or the Colossus of Apollo, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The speaker begins by saying that the subject of this poem, the New Colossus, is “not like” that of Rhodes, which stands with "conquering limbs astride from land to land." 

The third line begins to distinguish the New Colossus from the old one. Unlike the "brazen," masculine figure, it is a "mighty woman" who is called the “Mother of Exiles.” She holds a torch in her hands that contains “imprisoned lightning,” a beacon that welcomes the exiles of the world. Just as her form and purpose differ from the Colossus at Rhodes, so does her setting: her “mild eyes” take in the sights of the “twin cities.” 

The volta at the ninth line marks a shift from a description of the statue to the voice of the New Colossus herself. She cries “with silent lips” that she does not want the histories and “‘storied pomp’” of the "ancient lands." Rather, she wants the tired, poor, and those who seek freedom from the abuses of the rest of the world to find refuge with her. In the poem’s vivid final line, the colossus lifts her “lamp beside the golden door,” a gesture that symbolizes enlightenment, hope, and acceptance.

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