I am happy to be joining the Poetry Friday community once more – and this week, on quite a special occasion as it is the 4th of July! Happy Independence Day, America! We had a chance to experience the fireworks and the festivities when we were in Las Vegas with family back in 2012. And it was such a wonderful experience, with free concerts happening in the Old Strip and so many other exciting things going on in the city. I am sure that there would be a lot more on this by other Poetry Friday enthusiasts if you visit Heidi Mordhorst’s roundup at My Juicy Little Universe.
In keeping with today’s special event, here is a beautiful picturebook that celebrates the Voice of the Statue of Liberty in Emma’s Poem.
Emma was born in 1849 to a very wealthy family in New York City. Her entire world revolved around a network of people with the same kind of privilege and status: “people who had plenty of everything.” Emma’s visit to Ward’s Island in New York Harbor tilted her reality as she came in contact with the poorest of the poor who fled their home countries seeking refuge.
Most people in her privileged circle back in the 1880s believed that a fine lady like her should not mingle with the destitute. In fact, most of the wealthy people believed that these “ragged and poor” people would soon be the ruin of the country. Despite this, Emma continued to help out the immigrants by teaching them English, get training for jobs and even made friends with them. She also advocated for immigrants’ rights and wrote feelingly in newspapers and in her poems about how they would be able to give back to the country with people’s help and support .
When news spread about a giant statue being constructed in France as a gift of friendship for the United States, people rallied to raise funds to build the large pedestal for the statue to stand on:
To raise money,
many well-known American writers
such as Mark Twain and Walt Whitman
were asked to write something.
Emma was asked to create a poem.
The whole collection would be sold
to help pay for the statue’s pedestal.
Emma thought long and hard about what she would write about. As she considered what the giant woman would say to the immigrants arriving in the New York Harbor, the ones “arriving hungry and in rags,” her poem “The New Colossus” was born and became a symbol of all that the Mother of Exiles stood for.
I had a chance to visit Ellis Island during my visit back in 2012. This photo was taken by my husband and I edited it to include the famous last lines of her poem.
The famous songwriter Irving Berlin also set these famous lines to music and became the unofficial anthem for the Land of the Free, all thanks to a woman with a compassionate heart, Emma Lazarus.
Here are a few of our photographs of the Mother of Exiles, otherwise known as the Statue of Liberty. Happy Independence Day!
Emma’s Poem: The Voice of the Statue of Liberty by Linda Glaser and paintings by Claire A. Nivola. Published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2010. Book borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.