Thursday, March 26, 2009

Desert Island Poems Part Four

To continue on from Desert Island Poems Part One, Desert Island Poems Part Two, and Desert Island Poems Part Three, here now is my fourth pick. And while the last poet I included, Edgar Allen Poe, lived in New York City for a while, the next poet I'm taking with me was a native New Yorker through and through. Emma Lazarus is a personal favorite of mine, a Jewish-American whose roots went back to colonial days. She was well educated and very assimilated, but over the course of her life, she awakened to her roots and became an ardent Zionist. And while the last few lines of this sonnet are very familiar, the full poem is not as well known:

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!"
The twin cities she refers to may be New York and Brooklyn, which was a separate city until 1899, or it may be New York and Jersey City, which is actually much closer to Liberty Island than New York. Lazarus wrote and donated this poem for an auction to raise funds to construct a pedestal for the Statue of Liberty. It was only later, after the statue was in place, that it was decided to place a plaque bearing the poem on the pedestal:

I would take this poem along especially because it reminds me of where I come from in a number of different ways, and that is something I would not ever want to forget. And one of the most ancient functions of poetry is, in fact, to help us to remember.
Poetry lets us "think memorable thoughts," as Walter Ong put it.

And that's all for this installment of Desert Island Poems, stay tuned for Part Five, coming soon to a Blog Time Passing near you!

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