Friday, October 28, 2011

The Meaning of the Statue of Liberty

Today is the 125th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty. Like the Colossus of Rhodes, the giant depiction of the Roman goddess of Liberty stands at the harbor entrance to send a message to those arriving. The proximity of Liberty Island to Ellis Island made that message overwhelming for generations of immigrants arriving at our shores.

But with air travel being the means of entrance and anti-immigrant sentiment rampant in the culture, the Statue no longer is what it was. It no longer does what it did. But does it still mean what it used to mean? It may be reduced to an icon, but is it still an iconic representation of the same sense?

The poet Emma Lazarus put these famous words in the statue's mouth,

"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!"
Do they still hold true?