Monday, August 7, 2017

Monday's Poetry: "The New Colossus"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

One of the many stinks generated by the Trump administration over just the past few days centered on a poem - and not just any poem, but lines of such national import that they have served as a welcome statement for immigrants arriving on our eastern seaboard for more than a century.

It's not that Donald Trump has a personal issue with immigrants.  Indeed, he has profited off of the backs of immigrant labor throughout his entire business career.  But Donald Trump is also a politician, and as a politician he has an established constituency of voters with whom he has to show allegiance - and Trump's constituency is a broad swath of know-nothings who are steeped in a belief that their lives are in the crapper because immigrants have taken all of the good jobs and advantages that should have gone to people were born here - especially white people.  Trump's constituency is angry, and Trump constantly strives to fan that anger and keep it raging.

This week a Trump senior aide by the name of Stephen Miller answered questions from the press regarding immigration, a favorite bogeyman of the Trump administration.  During that session Miller got into verbal combat with Jim Acosta, a reporter from CNN, a news network routinely vilified by Trump and his minions.  After Acosta brought up the poem, "The New Colossus," by Emma Lazarus along with the notion that the Trump anti-immigration stance was going against the spirit of that verse, Miller bit back and declared that the poem was added later and was not a part of the Statue of Liberty as it was designed.

Stephen Miller, in minimizing the words of Emma Lazarus, was restating an old argument of far right critics of immigration.  One white supremacist, Richard Spencer, has been outspoken in his disgust over the imagery of "ugliness, weakness, and deformity" that the Lazarus poem brought to the Statue of Liberty, and he was especially bent out of shape over the terms "wretched refuse" and "teeming shore."  Klansman David Duke has also been outspoken in his belief that Emma Lazarus was speaking for Jewish immigrants, and he sought to emphasize that Lazarus herself was a Jew.  In their view, the words of Emma Lazarus had not enhanced the meaning of the Statue of Liberty, they had defiled it.

I have highlighted "The New Colossus" in this space previously (April 26, 2010), and it's obviously time to run it again.   Hatred and racism are cancers that weaken society, but a healthy flow of immigration has always made us stronger.

The New Colossus
by Emma Lazarus

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, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

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