Modern Annotations for “The New Colossus”

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame1,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates2 shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles3. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome4; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities5 frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me6 your tired7, your poor8,
Your huddled masses9 yearning to breathe10 free11,
The wretched refuse12 of your teeming shore13.
Send these, the homeless14, tempest-tost15 to me16,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door17!”

  1. Refers to the Colossus of Rhodes.
  2. The sun sets behind the Statue of Liberty.
  3. This was never an official name, but a nickname the author chose to bestow, and was never intended to be reflective of U.S. policy toward migrants and/or refugees. The official name is the Statue of Liberty.
  4. “Welcome” held a different meaning when this poem was published. At the time it was seen as a greeting, akin to “Hello,” and was not an invitation for people to come live here permanently.
  5. The boroughs of Brooklyn and Manhattan incorporated into one city (New York City) after the publication of this poem.
  6. The statue’s declaration is of course figurative. Specific decisions regarding the resettlement of migrants ought to be left to elected officials, who use their best judgment, weighing security and economic concerns, to determine who to let enter the country.
  7. A country seeking to keep pace in this global economy can’t be expected to take in a bunch of tired people. They should rest up, and then apply through the regular immigration channels. They’ll get through in a couple of years, no problem.
  8. Oh, why? So they can just come in and go on welfare? Come on, this is totally unrealistic.
  9. What kind of masses are we talking about here? How huddled? If the masses do not exceed a quantity of 10,000 as per official United States policy, and if the huddling is in no way threatening and doesn’t allow them to hide anything, then maybe it still applies, but this line has to be kept in context.
  10. What if they have something more sinister in mind than breathing? What if they’re up to no good? We have to think these things through.
  11. If we’re going to take anybody in, they need to go through exhaustive background checks, sign loyalty pledges, be heavily monitored for the rest of their natural lives, and put on every security watch list in the country before the “refugee” process even starts. Freedom has to be earned after all.
  12. Obviously this part of the poem makes no sense. Why would we want to clutter up our great country with a bunch of refuse? Refuse means trash. Do we want trash in America? No, we want greatness. I suspect the author was drunk when she wrote this part.
  13. What shore are we talking about? Is it one of the brown ones? Because I don’t know how I feel about that. And if it’s one of those Muslim Sharia countries or whatever, the poem obviously wasn’t talking about them. I mean those people are as un-American as they come!
  14. This should be removed from the poem to reflect our modern circumstances. Do you know how much it costs to house the homeless? And for a bunch of people who aren’t even citizens? We have to be practical about these things.
  15. And if they bring the tempest with them? What then? We’re just supposed to deal with whatever storm they might be bringing with them, put our own people at risk? Not in my country!
  16. The poem says “me,” and it’s the Statue of Liberty talking, and as I recall nobody elected her to higher office. But if the governor of New York wants to cram a bunch of refugees on Liberty Island and keep them there under his authority, then I guess go right ahead.
  17. An outdated metaphor. Today, a better analogy would be if the “lamp” were a stop sign, and the “golden door” a barbed-wire fence.