For the last two years, I’ve been writing with a group of amazing women writers. Each week we show up with our words and we witness each other’s voices speaking our joys, our challenges, our grief and our delight.
On yesterday’s call, Tanya shared this piece of writing. And it was so powerful and moved us all so deeply, that we decided we each wanted to share her words on our walls, on our blogs. We wanted to be Georgina to her Emma…
It is my strongest encouragement and deepest hope that you read Tanya’s words. 3 reasons (at least): 1) It is beautiful, powerful, and deserves to be heard. 2) It is written by a woman I advocate for and love. 3) You need to hear what she has to say.
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, the tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
~ Emma Lazarus
You remember these words?
Lazarus wrote this sonnet to raise money for the construction of the pedestal upon which the Statue of Liberty would stand. It was read as part of an exhibit to great acclaim, but was promptly forgotten and wasn’t included in the opening of the statue in 1886. It wasn’t included on the pedestal, even. It just was…absent.
She died a year later.
Can you feel that? Can you feel the pain of something written that was celebrated in a
moment, known then forgotten. Looked over. Looked past.
Vital and alive. Then insignificant and abandoned. Seen then unseen.
But there is more, of course, for how else would we know this famous sonnet?
Because a woman named Georgina advocated on the poem’s behalf. On Emma’s behalf. On behalf of all that the statue could come to represent, should the sonnet be re-remembered. She called in favours, lobbied hard and worked tirelessly to have the meaning mean something.
In 1903, Georgina succeeded, and a plaque bearing Emma’s words was created and
installed in the pedestal.
It was then that the Statue of Liberty stood for something. On something. What was
conceived as a French token of admiration for the American way of life became a symbol of hope and welcome for weary refugees in fourteen scant lines.
Fourteen scant lines upon which American ideals rest.
The very ideals that are being gunned down in nightclubs. That are being turned inside out and spat back with vitriol and ignorance and arrogance from the podium.
These words of a woman, written for a woman, and upheld by a woman, are once again being appropriated at best and at worst, ignored. Shouted over. Seen but unseen. Heard but unheard.
They’re trying to tear her down. They’re trying to gag her silent lips. They’re trying to wall her up. They’re trying to keep them out. They’re trying to kill them off. They’re ruining everything.
Everything that is good and holy and kind and decent and beautiful and possible and
hopeful and right and sacred.
Will we continue to let them? Will we continue to stand with mild eyes observing the chaotic tempest around us?
We were born knowing what is right. And then, we unsee and forget. Until we re-remember what we know. Until we re-remember that we are mighty.
And it’s up to us, you know. We must speak the words of her silent lips. I will be Georgina to your Emma. Let’s lift the lamp and shine the light. Let’s do this. Let’s stand for something. On something. Something colossal. Something like everything.