Next week, Congress will vote on a measure to replace the final five lines of the famous sonnet “New Colossus” on the Statue of Liberty with a poem written by Arizona Republican Governor, Jan Brewer. Since 1883, the words of poet Emma Lazarus has adorned the plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty. The lines in question are:
“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!”
Governor Brewer spoke about the proposed measure. “The Lazarus sonnet has no place in this country. It is essentially like putting a sign on your front door saying, ‘sure, come right in and take whatever you’d like.’ Well, I’m sick of people taking. I believe it is time we put up a new sign that says ‘we don’t want your kind here’.” Certainly, Brewer’s replacement lines do just that:
“When darkness breaches our golden shore,
Be wary, those who seek to come,
Whose purity reaches not the core,
The Godly shall cleanse the vile scum,
Our guns shall sound and you’ll hit the floor.”
Opponents of the measure claim that the added lines are clearly racist and degrade the purpose of both the sonnet and the Statue of Liberty itself. According to the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, New Colossus has “come to symbolize the statue’s universal message of hope and freedom for immigrants coming to America and people seeking freedom around the world.” When confronted with that fact, Brewer stated, “Well, maybe we’ll need to do something about the Statue next.”
Calls to the foundation revealed that the Statue of Liberty is currently closed to the public for renovations. Whether this will include the replacement lines for the New Colossus, we will find out when Congress votes next week.
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Photograph by Erik Daniel Drost